Two short years ago, the Cicero-North Syracuse girls basketball team may have found contentment with just earning a Section III Class AA championship. But those days are gone.
Now the Northstars want nothing less than the ultimate prize - a state championship - and thanks to Saturday's emphatic 63-34 destruction of Section II champion Shaker at Liverpool High School in the Class AA regional final, CNS is on its way to the state final four for the first time.
Everything clicked for the Northstars in two long stretches that decided the contest. CNS shook Shaker for 16 unanswered points in the second quarter to streak to a 31-16 halftime lead, then pieced together an 18-3 run in the third period to put the Blue Bison away.
All the motivation CNS needed came from two frustrating defeats in this same regional round in 2009 and 2010. Whatever else would follow, the Northstars were bent on avoiding the same disappointment the third time around.
Shaker was just as determined to stop this, and through a physical first quarter, it stayed close, but CNS still inched in front 15-10. Then, after the Blue Bison cut it to 15-14 early in the second period, the Northstars took off.
Breanna Stewart's pair of free throws started the 16-0 dash. Before it was done, the CNS press had rattled Shaker into a series of turnovers while, on the offensive side, Kelsey Mattice buried a pair of 3-pointers and, in between, managed a steal that turned into a pair of Brittany Paul free throws.
Stewart added four more free throws, and the Northstars were safely in front to stay. But even that wasn't enough as, in the third quarter, more full-court defensive attention led to more Shaker mistakes - and more points on the other end, mostly on the foul line.