Not only did the Cicero-North Syracuse girls basketball team earn its first Section III title in 24 years, it did so in dominating fashion.
In each of the Northstars' three playoff games, including last Saturday's 44-30 conquest of Fayetteville-Manlius in the Class AA final at Utica Memorial Auditorium, it won by double digits.
"It feels good to get the banner," freshman center Breannat Stewart said after a terrific second-half performance helped the Northstars pull away.
Head coach Eric Smith agreed. "It's great to see them celebrate and smile and enjoy this," he said.
The one common thread through the AA playoffs was CNS's ability to shut down a key aspect of the opponent's attack. In F-M's case, that meant a double shot of defensive prowess.
No doubt, the Northstars expected a tougher test after it routed the Hornets 58-34 back on Jan. 16. F-M had reached the finals by stunning both of last year's finalists, Oswego and Corcoran, holding both of them under 40 points.
Determined to slow the Hornets down, Smith had the Northstars in a full-court press throughout the first half. Ashley Waldron, Marybeth Egan, Morgan Nandin and the rest of CNS's guards took turns following F-M's best player, Torie Lee, and bothered her all afternoon.
"Our goal was to slow them down and get the ball out of Torie's hands," Egan said.
It got so physical that Lee broke her nose late in the first quarter. And while she showed tremendous heart by returning in the second period and playing the rest of the game, Lee would never get much free space to roam.
That defense became more urgent after Stewart, the Northstars' big presence in the paint, went to the bench with two early fouls. Held to two points in the first half, Stewart mostly watched as CNS surged in front anyway, leading by as much as eight in the second quarter before going to the break with an 18-13 edge.