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.