Sometimes the quest for a first-ever Section III Class AA girls basketball championship requires an effort beyond the norm.
Fayetteville-Manlius certainly fit into that category when it played Cicero-North Syracuse in last Saturday's AA title game at Utica Memorial Auditorium, as senior Torie Lee played most of the afternoon with a broken nose.
Still, that wasn't enough, as the Northstars used many different defensive approaches to frustrate F-M, leading to a 44-30 defeat. It was CNS's first sectional title since 1985.
Maybe the worst possible thing for the Hornets was being forced to wait eight days to play the final after the adrenaline rush of back-to-back playoff upsets of Oswego and Corcoran -- both of last year's Class AA finalists.
On the other hand, it did give the Hornets time to plot strategy for CNS, a team it lost to 58-34 at home back on Jan. 16. At the very least, F-M was sure that the rematch would be closer, given how much it had improved in the six weeks since.
A combination of championship-game nerves and strong defense led to a ragged start on both sides, which F-M didn't mind -- especially when the Northstars' 6-3 freshman center, Breanna Stewart, went to the bench with two early fouls.
But even though F-M led 6-5 after one period, it was having a hard time moving the ball anywhere. CNS had instituted a full-court press, focusing all its energy on bothering Lee and the other F-M guards everywhere they went.
That turned physical when, late in the first quarter, Lee took a shot to her nose and left the game, bleeding. It was later found that Lee's nose got broken, but she returned in the second quarter and played the rest of the game anyway.
Still, the Northstars' pressure lingered, and F-M fell behind 18-13 by halftime, despite Katie Sager's eight rebounds and Lee getting six points and four rebounds.