Right to the end, the Canastota girls basketball team kept playing first-rate defense, even when it came within the context of a disappointing defeat.
For long periods of time in Tuesday night's Section III Class B-2 final at Jamesville-DeWitt High School, the undefeated, top-seeded Raiders shut down no. 2 seed Clinton in the same way that it had silenced 22 previous opponents.
Yet it was Canastota's own struggles to find the basket that proved the team's downfall in a 31-23 defeat to the Warriors.
"We thought we were going to win," head coach Vinnie Salamone said. "But due to Clinton's pressure, we never got in an offensive flow."
Still, right up until the last minute, the game was within reach. In a night where every basket was precious, Canastota, down by six, had rallied back within two, 25-23, with less than a minute left on jump shots by Alexis Havens and Lindsday McGinley.
Yet when the Raiders tried to press, they left Clinton's Kara Ladd wide-open underneath the basket, and she hit a lay-up with 48 seconds to play to make it 27-23. Moments later, a steal and lay-up by Allie Donovan sealed Clinton's victory.
Canastota had no intention of changing the patient, defense-first strategy that had produced 22 wins in a row and an average of just 27 points allowed per game.
So, right from the opening tip, the Raiders settled into its zone, clogging up the middle for Clinton's star forward, Lauren Conway, and daring the Warriors to beat them with outside shots.
All looked to be sound on the offensive end when Canastota took a 6-0 lead in the game's first three minutes. However, with Clinton using its own zone to bottle up Liz McGinley, the Raiders didn't score again for nearly eight minutes.
Despite this, Canastota used 6-0 runs at the start and end of each half, plus its lockdown defense, to grab a 15-10 halftime lead. That defense remained strong in the third quarter, even though Clinton rallied to tie it, 17-17, with one period to play.