Feb 26, 2008 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
A year had passed, and judging by the time, situation and eventual outcome, absolutely nothing for the Cicero-North Syracuse girls basketball team had changed.
The Northstars were a no. 4 seed, moving through the Section III Class AA playoffs, looking to knock off top seed Oswego in last Saturday’s semifinal round at Liverpool High School.
This was exactly the same script as 2007, when CNS came quite close to reaching the title game, falling to Buccaneers 57-54,
Now, it wanted a different ending. Instead, it got a maddening variation on the same heartbreaking theme with a score nearly identical to what took place 12 months earlier.
With a chance to tie or win the game at the end, the Northstars instead turned the ball over, leading to decisive free throws and a 58-54 defeat to Oswego in one of the season’s most exciting games.
Having erased an early 15-point deficit, CNS led, 49-48, with less than three minutes left before a wild sequence put the Bucs in front for good.
Off a loose ball, the ball found its way back under the CNS basket, where Oswego’s Christian Scaccia put in a lay-up with 2:01 left to put her team up 50-49.
Fouled on the play, Scaccia missed the free throw, but Nikki Carroll got the rebound and hit her own lay-up to make it 52-49.
Eventually, the CNS deficit grew to five, 54-49 before the Northstars’ Nicole Dwyer drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 25.5 seconds left, cutting the margin to 54-52 with a lot of time left.
Carroll hit an open lay-up off a length-of-the-court pass with 22 seconds left to make it 56-52. Breanna Stewart answered with a basket with 14.2 seconds to play to get it to 56-54 before Vanessa Sheffield was fouled with 12.7 seconds left.
Sheffield missed the front end of a one-and-one, and the Northstars had life. Out of time-outs, CNS moved down the floor and the Bucs, with two fouls to give, used one of them to force an in-bounds play from the sidelines with time running low.
Following a Bucs time-out, CNS had two choices — either go inside to Stewart for a possible tying basket, or kick it outside to an open shooter, maybe Dwyer or Marybeth Egan, and get a game-winning 3-point shot off.
Choosing to go inside, the Northstars soon found out that the Bucs had read it perfectly, as Kristina Licatese made the steal in front of Stewart and, with four seconds left, drew an intentional foul. When Licatese made both free throws, Oswego was on its way to Friday night’s AA final against Corcoran.
It was quite a ride to that wild final sequence, too. Oswego used a barrage of 3-pointers to build a 25-10 edge early in the second quarter, only to cool off and allow CNS to make it back to 31-26 by halftime and hang close the rest of the way.
Stewart, the highly-touted eighth-grader, had 10 of her 13 points in the second half, as Dwyer added 12 points, most of it from a trio of 3-pointers. Egan had 11 points and Morgan Nandin contributed nine points.
Oswego also had terrific offensive balance, as Licatese finished with 16 points and Carroll, Scaccia and Cari Reed earned 12 points apiece.
Of course, it had already been a memorable week, if for the single reason that the Northstars had knocked out no. 5 seed Liverpool, in an impressive 72-52 victory during last Tuesday night’s Class AA quarterfinal.
Having beaten these same Warriors two weeks earlier, on Feb. 5, CNS had plenty of reason to feel good, even if Liverpool had stars like Tyler Ash and Sharon Dennis that had helped the team win a Class AA championship 12 months ago.
From a shaky start and a 4-4 tie, the Northstars broke out of it by going on a 12-0 late in the first quarter, which put CNS ahead for good.
Try what it could, the Warriors found it impossible to deal with Stewart. In her best overall performance to date, Stewart hit on all kinds of shots, from hooks to fall-away jumpers, dominated on the boards and even blocked some shots. She finished with 23 points.
“She is just relentless,” said head coach Eric Smith. “She wants to compete on the biggest stage, and it doesn’t matter what gets put in front of her.”
With Stewart on fire, CNS hitting its share of 3-pointers and three Liverpool starters (Ash, Dennis and Kristin Murrock) all getting into early foul trouble, the Northstars led by as much as 15 in the first half.
Liverpool refused to go away, though, taking out more than half that margin and, by the third quarter, found itself down by just seven, 39-32.
If there was any cause for concern, CNS didn’t show it. Instead, it closed that third period on an 11-2 run and never let the Warriors get close again, despite Ash getting most of her 20 points in the second half.
“They showed some resiliency,” said Smith. “They know how good they can be when they play hard.”
And great as Stewart was, she didn’t have to work alone. Egan steadily produced baskets all night and had 21 points, including three of the teams’ five 3-pointers, with Nandin adding 13 points. CNS, as a whole, was terrific at the foul line, converting 21 of 25 free throws.
The dream ended a round later, leaving CNS with an overall mark of 19-4. Dwyer and reserve forwards Alyssa Georgiade and Jessica Misiaszek are the only departing seniors that saw big minutes this season. With Egan, Nandin, Stewart and Hickin (plus Ashley Waldron) all back in 2008-09, the Northstars might finally get to the top.