With nothing less than the OHSL Liberty division lead at stake, the Cazenovia girls basketball team proved on the afternoon of Super Bowl Sunday that, as in football, defense can make the primary difference between victory and defeat.
The Lakers' game-long effort to contain Westhill paid off as it took charge down the stretch and beat the Warriors 47-42, seizing first place in the process.
Playing at just the pace it wanted to, Cazenovia (13-2) still trailed most of the way, but outscored Westhill 15-3 in the game's final five minutes.
Kiley Evans keyed the comeback, getting nine of her 20 points in the fourth quarter. By comparison, Westhill's Carly Cooper, also a Division I-bound senior (she is going to Siena), had just 11 points and did not make a single 3-pointer all day. Fellow senior Annie O'Connor had just seven points, also well below her average.
Head coach Steve Miles said the work that guard Kassie Kleine did on Cooper all game was superb, as Kleine stayed in Cooper's face, forced her into tough shots, and eventually wore her down.
Despite all this, Westhill maintained a slim lead for much of the first half, hitting eight of nine free throws while Cazenovia went one-for-six from the line. That helped keep the Warriors in front, 27-22, going into the break.
Just a minute into the third quarter, the Lakers trailed 32-22, and were on the brink of losing sight -- but the defense cracked down again, dictating the tempo and limiting Westhill to just three field goals the rest of the way.
As this was going on, Cazenovia ate away at the margin, especially when Evans hit three baskets during an 8-0 run in the final period. When she hit a lay-up with 2:35 left, Cazenovia was up 40-39, its first lead since the first quarter.