Not for a decade has the Fayetteville-Manlius girls basketball team ever been this close to a Section III championship. And no one would argue the fact that the Hornets richly earned that chance at a title.
Culminating a week full of superlative effort, the Hornets rallied from a big second-half deficit to shock top seed and defending champion Corcoran 39-36 in last Friday night's Class AA semifinal at Liverpool High School.
"For the last few years, we had achieved a certain level of consistency," F-M head coach Scott DeForest said. "But we hadn't been able to win the big games."
All that has changed, and the Corcoran game was a prime example of how a combination of seasoning, poise and toughness can lead to the next level.
F-M had beaten Corcoran back on Jan. 23, but that had come with the Cougars' top player, Irene Hudson, sidelined due to illness. Hudson was back for the rematch -- and for a while, her presence looked to be the difference.
The Hornets got just the pace it wanted in the first half, taking away Corcoran's ability to run and forcing outside shots that were off target. By doing so, the Hornets inched into a 17-16 lead at the break, but that lead wouldn't last.
With Hudson getting 11 of her 16 points in the third quarter, the Cougars roared in front 31-22. Not only were the Hornets behind, it had a key player, Emily Trapani, on the bench with four fouls. Still, DeForest said his players were ready for the long haul.
"We needed to make this game into a long-distance race," he said. "We thought that, at the end, we would have our legs."
Switching to a zone defense, F-M forced Corcoran into outside shots that were well off target, and held its own on the boards, too. All told, the Hornets kept the Cougars off the board for more than seven minutes, enough time to spring a comeback.