Feb 26, 2008 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
already the most successful in the program’s history.
By surviving a tense 34-32 decision over Marcellus in last Saturday’s Section III Class B-1 semifinal at Liverpool High School, the Bearcats reached a sectional championship game for the first time.
Now, to get that title, Solvay will merely need to knock off five-time defending champion South Jefferson Wednesday night at 8 p.m. at Jamesville-DeWitt. The winner gets Cazenovia or Bishop Ludden for the overall Class B crown Saturday at Onondaga Community College.
Those are all future obstacles, though. For now, it was just a chance to savor how far the Bearcats (16-6) had come.
“This is a special group of players,” said head coach Shawn Mitchell.
They needed to be special — and tough — to fend off Marcellus. Though 9-12, the no. 6 seed Mustangs had knocked off no. 3 seed Skaneateles in the previous round and had split two regular-season meetings with Solvay.
In both of those earlier games (held within the same week in January due to weather postponements), senior guard Kelly Kaltenbach did not play much due to illness. Kaltenbach was healthy now, and would play a key role in the outcome.
Both teams concentrated on defense throughout the game, making every basket a struggle. Solvay trailed, 11-10, late in the first half when it ran off eight unanswered points, most of them free throws by Chelsey Chavez-Egan and Liz Martinez, to go up 18-11 at the break.
But the Bearcats could not pull away, as the tenacious Mustangs continued to put up heavy resistance in the third quarter. It took a pair of Kaltenbach 3-pointers to keep Solvay ahead going into the final period.
When Chavez-Egan hit two more free throws with 3:46 left to make it 34-27, she had put up Solvay’s last points of the game. Mitchell said his team, toward the end, was too cautious.
“We played not to lose down the stretch, and it showed,” he said.
Sarah Holden nearly won it by herself. The Marcellus senior scored five points to slash the margin to two. Then, with less than 30 seconds left, she made a steal and was intentionally fouled going up to the basket.
Under immense pressure, and accustomed to taking foul shots with no one around, Holden missed both of them, then was off on a 3-pointer in the ensuing possession.
After a lot of scrambling, Chavez-Egan was fouled with 5.5 seconds left. On the front end of a one-and-one free-throw try, she missed, and Marcellus got one more shot to win — but Kate Gosson’s heave was too long, and the Bearcats had prevailed.
For the day, Chavez-Egan had 12 points and Kaltenbach added 10 points, while Tessa Pucello struggled all day against a big, physical Marcellus front line, getting just six points. Holden, with 13 points, led all individuals.
Three nights earlier, Solvay took the court and gave the home fans a strong defensive performance in the B-1 quarterfinals, whipping no. 7 seed Holland Patent 46-24.
To say that the Bearcats were ready for the playoff to start would be understating the case. Before the Golden Knights could even breathe, Solvay put the game away in the first half and assured that it would finish with a perfect 10-0 mark on its home court this winter.
On the defensive end, Solvay used its combination of size and quickness to stifle anything HP tried to establish. Offensively, the inside work of Pucello and the guard play of Chavez-Egan crossed up the Golden Knights’ attempts to contain it.
Add this all up, and Solvay had an 18-3 edge after one period and a 32-7 gap by halftime. Understandably, the Bearcats let up a bit in the second half, but the damage had been rendered.
Chavez-Egan led the way with 16 points and eight rebounds, with Pucello earning 13 points and 13 rebounds in her playoff debut. Liz Martinez added eight points.
The battle with Marcellus followed, leaving Solvay tired — but proud of advancing to a place it had never gone before, with every intention of going further, even with South Jefferson’s history of post-season success.
“South Jefferson is good, but we’ll still go and play and take our chances,” said Mitchell.