Feb 21, 2011 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Beaten up by the winter? Had it up to here with the morning routine of rise, shine, eat breakfast, spend 10 minutes digging out your car?
Yeah, here too. Fortunately there’s a cure, even if the recent brief warm-up was a tease and not a full-time seductress. It’s the Section III girls basketball playoffs, two weeks of constant drama where, every night and in every game, someone’s season ends – and someone else inches closer to a championship.
In all, 60 teams made their way into the five sectional tournaments. And a first glance of the brackets reveals that, among the large schools, it’s clear to see who should win it all – but the small schools have a larger range of possibilities.
For the last two years, Breanna Stewart and Cicero-North Syracuse have rejected, literally and figuratively, every challenger as it occupied the Class AA throne, though Corcoran came awfully close in 2010. Now the UConn-bound (in 2012, anyway) Stewart and the Northstars hold the top seed again in AA, with every expectation that a three-peat is inevitable.
Consider that Liverpool, the no. 4 seed, just lost to CNS by 40, and CBA, the no. 5 seed is not quite the threat it was when Leanne Ockenden was draining 3-pointers in recent campaigns. Also consider that Corcoran, who gained the no. 2 seed after a solid 14-4 campaign, suffered its own recent beatdown (58-29) at the Northstars’ expense, so how could that turn around should the sides meet again in the finals?
Maybe the only answer for CNS lies out east, in no. 3 seed Utica Proctor. Led by Pitt-bound Bri Kiesel, the Raiders have won 13 in a row and, back in December at the Lady Raider Invitational, pushed the Northstars until the fourth quarter before CNS got away, 61-45. Get to the finals – which will be again at Utica Auditorium – and maybe some hometown magic can stop the Stewart machine. But that’s still a longshot.
One way of guaranteeing a big crowd in Utica two weekends from now would be having Whitesboro 20-0 and playing for the Class A crown. As it stands now, Allie Cady, Francesca Coutroupe and the rest of the Warriors are merely 18-0, but a perfect run through the Tri-Valley League has them well-situated as the top seed. No one should give Whitesboro much bother until the finals, for no. 4 seed Jamesville-DeWitt has overachieved and is still quite young, and no. 5 seed East Syracuse-Minoa struggles with consistency.
As for Cortland, the defending champs slide in as the no. 2 seed at 13-5, but had its own consistency issues and don’t get much offense beyond Maggie Brown and Nacriema Mann. Still, no one in the trio of no. 3 seed New Hartford, Carthage or Phoenix appears equipped to deny the Purple Tigers a return to the title game.
Move to Class B, and it gets a lot more intriguing. South Jefferson is after its eighth championship in nine years and absolutely shredded the Frontier League all winter on the way to 18-0. Combine the inside-outside of Maddy Wetterhahn and Rachael Bassett with the way head coach Pat Bassett implements defense, and it’s pretty tough to beat.
Then again, the Spartans’ path to the finals appears brutal. Just to start, it will get Clinton or Westhill, as good a 9-8 first-round game as you can find with Clinton’s strong inside game and the Ashley Cianfriglia-Anna Ross combination for Westhill. Get through that, and Utica-Notre Dame, the 2010 Class C champs moved up, could loom in the semifinals if the Jugglers get past a likely quarterfinal with no. 4 seed Ilion. In Emily Durr, it’s safe to say that UND has one of the best freshmen in the Northeast.
On the other side, all indications point toward a rubber match between Cazenovia, the no. 2 seed, and Jordan-Elbridge, the no. 3 seed. They had two memorable regular-season clashes, each side winning at home by similar margins as the Eagles ruined the Lakers’ bid for a perfect regular season (and the top seed) last Thursday behind Molly Hourigan’s latest triple-double. Who knows what a third meeting would bring, but both are quite capable of toppling that black-and-gold dynasty from Adams.
Class C does not lack for contenders, on either side, but they’re sure glad to see Durr and UND moved up after it won the title a year ago. In C-1, Cooperstown works from the top seed in a tough bracket. A terrific 4-5 quarterfinal pits Jenna Johnson and Tully against Tricia Hax and Pulaski, two 1,000-point scorers that can carry their respective sides a long way.
Add to that a solid no. 2 seed in Herkimer and, in yet another high-quality quarterfinal, no. 3 seed Thousand Islands (who lost to UND in the finals 12 months ago) gets challenged by Adrianna Spicer and Watertown IHC.
Move to C-2, and the main story is Fabius-Pompey. The Falcons surprised everyone, even themselves, by running the regular-season table – 18 games, 18 wins. The key was getting 6-4 center Kiersten Dodge in the middle, plus Kate Emerson and Courtney Purcell, to add balance to an attack anchored by the all-around brilliance of Stevie Ray in the perimeter.
The top-seeded Falcons have reason to worry, though, because Onondaga, who only lost to F-P 43-39 a couple of weeks ago, looms as a semifinal opponent should the Tigers make it past Oriskany. And Waterville, the no. 2 seed, has been state-ranked most of the season and has a wise coaching hand in Larry Stockwell that has seen plenty of big games in the past.
Class D falls along very familiar lines no matter where you look. Copenhagen rode a 17-0 regular season to the top seed, the main component for the Gold Knights coming in three wins over Sackets Harbor. Alas, the Patriots hold the no. 4 seed and, should they get past Alexandria Bay, a fourth Sackets-Copenhagen meeting in the semifinals could happen. Is there any cliche out there about how tough it is to beat someone four times in a season?
Also, no. 2 seed New York Mills and no. 3 seed Hamilton know each other quite well. In 2010, the Emerald Knights achieved its first-ever sectional title at the Marauders’ expense, and they had two fun meetings this winter, splitting them. Mills is balanced and tough, while Hamilton rides the mutiple talents of Jordan Peterson as far as it can.
Starting Tuesday night, the eliminations begin…and the wait for spring continues. Eventually, we’ll get there, on all fronts.