Right in its backyard, the Cicero-North Syracuse girls basketball team was poised to take another giant step toward the state Class AA championship.
Instead, the Northstars got stuck in someone else's zone.
More specifically, it was the zone defense offered by Section II champion Bethlehem that helped proved to undo CNS in the course of a 50-40 defeat in last Saturday's Class AA regional final at Liverpool High School.
CNS had earned its first Section III Class AA title in 24 years by virtue of its own lockdown defense which combined heavy perimeter pressure from the likes of Ashley Waldron and Marybeth Egan with the big presence of 6-3 freshman center Breanna Stewart in the paint.
When it came to Bethlehem, though, the emphasis would be on the other side of the ball.
The Eagles intended to throw a 2-3 zone at the Northstars, which was risky. On the one hand, it could keep Stewart and fellow forward Shannon Hickin tied up. On the other hand, it could lead to open looks for the CNS guards, especially Marybeth Egan.
At least in the first half, this approach worked quite well. CNS could not find its range from outside, and the missed shots turned into Bethlehem scoring opportunities, which the Eagles cashed in enough times to build a 10-point lead.
CNS would roar back, cutting the deficit in half and going to the break only down by five, 20-15. And it continued in the third quarter, as Stewart got free a bit more. Her three-point play midway through the period put the Northstars ahead 25-23.
Just as quickly, though, CNS went cold again, only hitting four free throws the rest of the period as Bethlehem regained the lead. When Caitlin Dole and Megan Olsen hit 3-pointers on consecutive possessions, the Eagles claimed a 33-29 edge.