Even as it started 6-1 and rolled through the bottom half of the OHSL Liberty division, the Cazenovia girls basketball team still carried a small question as to what it was going to take to finish atop the league.
Now the Lakers might have a better clue, offered up by Bishop Ludden last Tuesday night in the course of a hard-fought 53-50 defeat at Buckley Gym, the team's first league loss of the season.
Ludden arrived with no small amount of motivation, remembering how Kiley Evans' 3-pointer from the corner in the waning seconds of last year's Section III Class B-2 title game produced a championship.
Still, Cazenovia had a clear edge of experience, with Evans and fellow seniors like Lindsey Smith and Kassie Kleine in the lineup, while the Gaelic Knights do not carry a single senior on its roster.
Right from the opening tip, though, the Lakers were in a battle. Ludden seized an early lead and, no matter what Cazenovia tried to do in the first three periods, it still watched as the Gaelic Knights gained a 37-30 edge by the end of the third quarter.
Sensing that they had to take over, Evans and Smith led a furious fourth-quarter rally. Evans, with 20 points, and Smith, with 13 points, accounted for much of Cazenovia's offense on this night, and aggressive defense forced the Gaelic Knights to the foul line to protect its lead.
But Ludden would come through. Of the 15 free throws it took in the fourth quarter, it made 11 of them, with Michelle Roesch (15 points), Ashley Cianfriglia (14 points) and Bella Knapp (nine points) sinking the clutch shots.
The defeat leaves Cazenovia hungry to bounce back Thursday, when Jordan-Elbridge, off to a surprising 6-3 start, pay a visit to Buckley Gym.