Mar 03, 2008 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Well now it’s official — the Corcoran girls basketball team is back on top, where it thinks it belongs.
When they started out in November, practicing in relative obscurity, the Cougars may have imagined a return to the glory days of the 1990s, which included two state championships and seven Section III titles.
Few, though, imagined that it would happen this quickly.
Without a senior in its starting lineup, but with limitless amounts of heart and passion, the Cougars secured its first sectional title in nine years when it rallied in the final minute to stun top seed Oswego 45-43 in last Friday night’s Class AA final at Onondaga Community College.
As Corcoran players, students and fans celebrated on the court at OCC, head coach Jim Marsh, owner of 402 career victories, said that this group’s accomplishments lines compares with anything in the team’s storied history.
“I can easily say that what these girls have accomplished is just as significant as the two state titles,” he said. “At the start of the season, no one picked them. I couldn’t be prouder of these kids. They’ve reestablished Corcoran as a team to beat.”
Indeed, the Cougars spent much of the regular season building its 15-5 record lingering in the shadow of more noted contenders like Oswego, CBA and Cicero-North Syracuse. This came even though Corcoran beat CNS in overtime on Jan. 11, in the first of many instances where the team’s ability to execute in the clutch would be on display.
That behavior would repeat itself in the AA playoffs. A string of 3-pointers by Nadia Jackson rescued the quarterfinal against West Genesee, giving Marsh his 400th career win. Then Carrie Blunt’s 18 points and 21 rebounds, and the team’s domination on the boards as a whole, helped to subdue CBA in the semifinal round.
Great as those games were, it paled next to what Corcoran pulled off against Oswego. Not only were the Buccaneers the top seed, it had won 16 games in a row and was playing in its third consecutive sectional final.
That experience, and the hunger to finally win it all after defeats to Rome Free Academy in 2006 and Liverpool in 2007, seemed to give the Bucs a big edge. But Marsh said it also put more heat on them, giving Corcoran a rare underdog status, something it never faced all that much when it was piling up championship trophies a decade ago.
Oswego took the lead midway through the first quarter and would hold that edge for a long time, holding Corcoran without a field goal for more than five minutes in that opening period as Blunt went to the bench with two early fouls.
Tempo had a lot to do with it. On both ends, the Cougars were forced into a half-court game, which played right into the Bucs’ strengths and negated Corcoran’s speed and quickness.
Also, any time the Cougars did try to go inside, Oswego forward Nikki Carroll seemed to swat it away with a well-timed block or rebound. Corcoran watched the Bucs close the first half on a 9-3 run and take a 22-14 edge to the break.
Despite all this, Oswego couldn’t put Corcoran away — and would eventually pay for it.
Applying more full-court pressure, the Cougars cut into the Bucs’ advantage in the third quarter and, with Irene Hudson’s 3-pointer, tied it at 27-27 before back-to-back baskets by Kari Reed (one of them a 3-pointer) put Oswego back in front 32-27 going into the final period.
The pattern repeated itself in the fourth quarter. Again, Corcoran came back and forced a tie, 35-35. Again, Reed ran off five points in a row — but after her 3-pointer with 3:23 left made it 40-35, the Bucs would not score again until the last seconds of the game.
Right at the end, the Cougars’ increased pressure forced a chaotic flow of play, plus the turnovers it needed.
Junior guard Quarin Bey made it happen. Following a Blunt lay-up that cut the deficit to 40-37, Bey got a steal, drove to the basket, made a lay-up and was fouled with 2:37 left. Bey made the free throw, and it was tied, 40-40.
As Oswego tried to get the ball up the court through the pressing Corcoran defense, Bey made another steal and drove in to hit the go-ahead lay-up with 2:01 left, giving her team a 42-40 lead that it would not relinquish.
Following a Reed miss in the last minute, Hudson hit two free throws with 18.5 seconds to play, all but clinching the title. With 11 points, Hudson led a balanced attack where Blunt and Ayana Bradley each had eight points and Bey added seven points. Reed led the Bucs with 13 points.
By refusing to surrender in a tense situation despite all the attempts Oswego made to put them away, the Cougars earned a championship and a chance to go even further.
On Saturday at 12 noon, Corcoran plays Section II champion Shenendehowa (who, ironically enough, starts five seniors) in the AA regional final at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy. The winner gets to come back to HVCC next weekend for the state final four.