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.