To keep its defense of the Section III Class B championship alive, the Cazenovia girls basketball team would need to beat the team it dethroned a season ago -- and it almost pulled the trick off.
The Lakers were ahead of undefeated, state no. 1-ranked South Jefferson going into the fourth quarter of Friday night's Class B quarterfinal, and only a late push from the Spartans' top forward led to Cazenovia being knocked out in a 35-33 decision.
Cazenovia's 41-31 victory over the Spartans in the 2009 Class B-1 final ended South Jefferson's six-year reign atop the sectional ranks.
This winter, with every starter back, the Spartans went 18-0 in the regular season and was atop the state Class B rankings. In short, the Lakers' challenge was a big one.
Yet everything that had to happen for Cazenovia did, even if it trailed 16-14 at halftime. The Lakers matched South Jefferson's defensive intesnity, challenging the ball on the perimeter and not letting the Spartans' star forward, Matty Wetterhahn, get too many possessions.
Overall, Cazenovia, led inside by Ashley Stec and Ellen Burr, out-rebounded South Jefferson 36-25, and the perimeter defense was just as good, limiting the Spartans to a single 3-pointer in 10 attempts.
All this appeared to be paying off when the Lakers seized a 24-23 lead by the end of the third quarter. Just at that point, though, Wetterhahn broke free, scoring five baskets and 10 of her 19 points in the final period as the Spartans edged in front, then held on.
In defeat, Stec led Cazenovia with 12 points, while Raeanne Clabeaux put up eight points and Burr got five points.
The defeat left Cazenovia with a final mark of 13-7, but another title run is quite possible next season as, of the team's main players, only Romagnoli graduates. Stec, Burr, Clabeaux, Taylor Malmsheimer and Colleen Dougherty all are set to come back next winter.