Mar 06, 2007 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
As it cast aside opponents with frightening ease this winter, the Christian Brothers Academy girls basketball team knew a moment would arrive when its character and heart would be put to the test.
That moment arrived last Saturday night, in the Section III Class A final at Onondaga Community College.
Despite its 20-1 record and no. 1 state ranking, CBA found itself hanging on against a furious fourth-quarter rally from its biggest rival, Jamesville-DeWitt.
By weathering that storm in the way that it did, the Brothers, by a score of 56-52, beat the Red Rams and earned its second consecutive sectional crown.
“It’s a great accomplishment,” said CBA head coach John Niland. “Not many teams can repeat.”
To earn back-to-back titles, the Brothers had to beat J-D for the third time this season. Each of the first two outings, on Dec. 20 and Jan. 31, were one-sided CBA romps featuring the usual blend of pressure defense and hot 3-point shooting.
Right away, though, J-D gave the indications that this third — and most important — meeting would be a different animal.
The Rams raced out to a 12-6 lead, aggressively driving to the basket and getting five points apiece from guards Brittany Cohen and Alyssa Gratien.
Coming off the bench, freshman Leanne Ockenden gave CBA the spark it needed, hitting a pair of 3-pointers to put her team up 16-14 by the end of the first quarter.
Steadily, the Brothers moved further ahead, getting as much offensive balance as it has enjoyed all season. Sarah Paulus (13 points), Amanda Billy (12 points) and Ockenden (11 points) each reached double figures, but none of them needed to dominate.
Meanwhile, J-D cooled off, not helped by the fact that guard Amanda Koenck got into foul trouble, held without a field goal. Only Danielle Weekes’ work in the paint (she had eight points in the third quarter) kept the Rams in sight.
With less than six minutes to play, CBA enjoyed a 48-34 lead — but in the next two-plus minutes, that margin nearly vanished as the Rams went on an 11-0 run.
Gratien got it started with a pair of free throws, then drained a 3-pointer. Caitlin Tessier sank a jumper. Weekes worked her way inside for another lay-up, then returned to hit two foul shots with 3:41 left to make it 48-45.
Through it all, said Niland, his team never panicked.
“We just had to calm down and get a couple of stops,” he said.
CBA got those stops — but more importantly, a vital part to its success returned just in time to deliver the biggest shots of her career.
For much of the game, Kayla Stroman was quiet, held to three points as the Rams’ defense did an effective job limiting her touches.
But with 2:32 left, Stroman flashed open — and hit a huge jumper to end J-D’s run. After a defensive stop, Stroman went to the corner and, with 1:47 left, hit a 3-pointer that made it 53-45.
“(Early on), Kayla was hesitant and not aggressive,” said Niland. “Toward the end, she got more comfortable.”
J-D fought all the way to the end, but Meredith Mosley and Jamie Carrick’s free throws in the final minute preserved the victory.
In defeat, Weekes finished with 20 points to lead both sides. Gratien, just a freshman, was right behind, with 17 points, while Cohen added 10 points.
So the Brothers move on to the Class A regional playoffs. It plays Friday at SUNY-Canton against the Section VII champions, with the winner to go to Potsdam Saturday for the regional to see who advances to the state final four in Troy next weekend.
Meanwhile, J-D closed with a record of 19-4, and three of those defeats were to CBA. Head coach Rob Siechen will see Weekes, Tessier and Whitney Young depart, but Cohen, Koenck and Gratien form a strong returning class that, in 2007-08, should make the Red Rams championship contenders again.