Mar 03, 2008 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
By any measurable standard, and against most other opponents, the effort the Cazenovia girls basketball team showed in last Saturday’s Section III Class B final against South Jefferson at Onondaga Community College would merit a championship.
Yet in the end, it was the Spartans that walked away with its sixth consecutive sectional title, fighting past the Lakers 43-39 in a game few in the packed OCC gymnasium would forget.
How close was it? That four-point margin, at the end, was the largest either team had in the entire second half.
What made the difference, said head coach Paul Harney, was the fact that his team made just enough mistakes to allow South Jefferson to slip through.
“We battled and competed and worked hard, just as we did all year,” he said. “But turnovers killed us.”
Despite those turnovers, Cazenovia still found itself with a chance to tie or win the game in the final seconds.
Down 41-39 after a Rachael Bassett free throw, the Lakers had the ball, just as it did when Kiley Evans hit her 3-pointer from the corner to beat Bishop Ludden in the Class B-2 final three nights earlier.
Remembering what happened there, South Jefferson forced Evans far outside, keeping her from anything close to an open look.
Still, this left Molly Dougherty open on the left baseline. From 15 feet out with 5.3 seconds left, Dougherty took a shot, missed — but got fouled.
With two successful free throws, Dougherty could tie the game. But she missed the first, and when the second shot went off target, Spartan forward Linsey Niles got the rebound, forcing Cazenovia to foul with 4.1 seconds to play. Niles hit both foul shots to clinch South Jefferson’s victory.
That was merely the final part of what had been an extraordinary contest where, right to the last possession, the outcome was in issue.
Since both teams pride themselves in playing defense, the first half turned into a bitter struggle for points, one where Cazenovia appeared to gain the upper hand.
At one point in the second quarter, the Laker defense, anchored on the perimeter by Kassie Kleine, held South Jefferson without a field goal for more than five minutes, overcoming its own four-minute drought to start the game and building a 16-9 advantage at one point. And most of this was done without forward Rachel Hardke, who got into early foul trouble but would return later and shine, as usual, on the defensive side.
Bassett would bring the Spartans back. She hit a 3-pointer just before halftime to make it 16-12 and, in the second half, hit on 16 more points to give her 22 for the night, a new career mark.
“Rachael didn’t look like a freshman,” said her father, South Jefferson head coach Pat Bassett.
Cazenovia went right with Bassett, though, creating an extraordinary homestretch where, over the last nine-plus minutes, the lead would switch hands 13 times, the massive fan contingents on both sides trading salvos of noise all the way through.
Evans, Dougherty, Rachel Stevens and Katie Mullins all hit baskets that would counter what Bassett and Niles were doing on the other end, each side raising their level of play on offense to match what the other was doing.
Cazenovia took what would be its last lead, 39-38, when Dougherty hit a lay-up with 1:33 left, but it would not score again. A pair of Leah Williams free throws with 1:05 left put the Spartans in front 40-39, setting up all the action at the end.
Dougherty, with 11 points, led the Lakers in scoring, as Mullins had 10 points, Evans nine points and Stevens seven points, all at the foul line. Niles’ clinching foul shots gave her 14 points on the night to complement Bassett’s big effort.
Despite this defeat, Cazenovia, at 20-3, still had its most successful season in the program’s history, setting a school record for wins and taking both the OHSL Liberty and Class B-2 titles.
Doing so again next winter might be difficult without Dougherty, Stevens and Hardke. Evans, Kleine and Mullins will return, having accomplished so much — yet still wanting to take the Lakers just a bit further.