Early in the fourth quarter of Saturday's Section III Class AA girls basketball semifinal between Cicero-North Syracuse and Fayetteville-Manlius, Breanna Stewart executed another vicious block, causing the loudest reaction of the afternoon.
Good thing that was loud, too, because otherwise the Northstars was spending much of the second half silencing the Hornets.
It was, once again, the CNS defense that went to the forefront as the top-seeded Northstars eliminated the Hornets 55-41 at Liverpool High School.
This sends CNS back to Utica Memorial Auditorium, the same venue where it won the sectional title a year ago (over F-M), to try and win a second straight Class AA championship. The Northstars will face Corcoran, who knocked out CBA 67-55 in the other semifinal.
Beating F-M again would not prove to be an easy assignment, especially when CNS went the first four minutes of the game without a field goal.
Then, as she has done so many other times, Stewart took over, again getting the best of her paint battle with F-M's 1,000-point senior, Emily Trapani.
From inside lay-ups to free throws to even a 3-pointer, Stewart had 10 points in a span of barely two minutes, zooming CNS to an 18-14 lead.
Unfazed, F-M went on an 11-0 run to start the second quarter, nine of the points coming from Ali Pliszka, who had 26 points in her team's quarterfinal win over Oswego.
Again, the Northstars clawed back, going in front on back-to-back 3-pointers from Kelsey Mattice and Brittany Paul, and still was up 32-29 at halftime.
Midway through a sloppy third quarter, the CNS defense really began to take hold. After an Alexis Rios basket briefly put F-M ahead 33-32, the Northstars shut them out for nine-plus minutes, using everything from perimeter pressure to a series of Stewart blocks.
Paul would clinch matters in the fourth quarter, getting seven of her 15 points in that last frame as the Hornets never could recover from that long drought.
All told, Stewart had 24 points, more than double the total of Trapani, who finished with just nine points. Pliszka, hampered by foul trouble, had just two of her 14 points after the break.
CNS and Corcoran played twice in the regular season, splitting those games. The Northstars' 49-43, come-from-behind win over the Cougars on Feb. 5 was Corcoran's only loss of the season.