Feb 28, 2007 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Well into the third quarter of last Tuesday night’s Section III Class B-1 championship game at Cicero-North Syracuse, the Westhill girls basketball team had to sense that South Jefferson, the reigning state champions, could be taken down.
Carly Cooper had just hit a 3-pointer from beyond NBA range. With that shot, the Warriors took a 29-27 lead on a Spartan team that had allowed 32 total points in two previous playoff wins over Marcellus and Cazenovia. A dynasty was teetering.
Within minutes, though, the dream had been deferred.
Relying on its depth, and carried by the superb play of senior guards Danielle Felice and Linsey Niles, the Spartans took over late in the third quarter and never relinquished that control, beating Westhill 59-43 and advancing to Saturday’s overall Class B final against Clinton.
By doing so, South Jefferson moved to 23-0, earned its fifth sectional title in a row, and eliminated the Warriors — just as it had done the previous two years.
“We played hard and aggressive early, but just ran out of gas,” said head coach Sue Ludwig. “We got tired and they (South Jefferson) hit the shots.”
This latest post-season clash between long-time powers both entrenched in the state Class B top 10 drew a full house to CNS, all of them eager to see this clash of styles.
To win, Westhill knew it had to run at full speed before South Jefferson’s vaunted defense established itself. Ludwig said her team had no chance if the Spartans turned it into a half-court game.
Also, the Warriors needed to maintain its hot perimeter shooting, knowing that the Spartans would try to envelop Cooper, who torched Watertown IHC for a school-record 45 points in the B-1 semifinals on Feb. 24.
Charged up at the start, the Warriors applied some early heat. With Cooper occupied, Annie O’Connor and Kristen Diglio combined to sink three 3-pointers and put Westhill ahead, 11-5, before the game was three minutes old.
However, South Jefferson settled down and blanked the Warriors for the rest of the first quarter, stretching a 10-0 run into the second period to go out in front.
Kept quiet at first, Cooper put together seven points late in the half to help Westhill punch back, and by the time the Warriors and Spartans went to the break, the two sides were tied, 21-21.
The tension spilled over into the second half. Five times, the teams exchanged the lead, culminating with Cooper’s long 3-pointer.
Instead of signaling an upset, though, all that seemed to do was spur the Spartans (especially Felice) to a higher level.
In a span of less than two minutes, South Jefferson went on another 10-0 run, sparked by Felice, who hit a 3-pointer, made a steal, hit a lay-up, was fouled, and sank the subsequent free throw.
As if that wasn’t enough, Felice hit a crushing 3-pointer just seconds before the third period ended, building the Spartans’ lead to 42-33. All told, Felice finished with 28 points, 13 of them in the third quarter.
By using nine different players for extended minutes and controlling the boards on both ends, South Jefferson would wear Westhill down. Over the game’ s last 12-plus minutes, the Spartans outscored the Warriors 32-14.
If Felice wasn’t hurting the Warriors, Niles did so with strong ball-handling and aggressive moves to the basket. She finished with 15 points.
Cooper, with 13 points, led a balanced Westhill attack as O’Connor earned 11 points and senior forward Lisa Olszewski added 10 points in hear last game in a Warrior uniform. Diglio was held to six points.
Westhill finished this season 19-4, earning yet another OHSL Liberty division title as Cooper blossomed into a star and Olszewski, Diglio and Liz Riley provided strong and consistent senior leadership.
As it carries on into 2007-08, Cooper, O’Connor and Kaley Arsenault will serve as the foundation as the Warriors again attempt to reach the top.