Through much of Friday morning's state Class B semifinal at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, the Cazenovia girls basketball team proved better than Irvington.
But the Lakers could not overcome a frightening start that left the Section I champion Bulldogs far out in front, and Irvington held on to prevail 58-51, spoiling Cazenovia's first-ever trip to the state final four.
All the way to Troy, the Lakers had proven its toughness multiple times, from the rallies against Jordan-Elbridge and Utica-Notre Dame to win the Section III championship to its dramatic 62-58 overtime victory over Oneonta to claim the regional title on March 12.
Yet Irvington provided the season's biggest challenge. The Bulldogs were the defending state and Federation Class B champions, with all kinds of experience on the season's biggest stage in Troy.
And that experience was evident in the game's opening stages. Before Cazenovia could even get comfortable, Irvington had hit its first four shots and zoomed to an 8-0 lead, forcing head coach Steve Miles to use a time-out just 2:03 into the contest.
The Lakers finally did get on the board, but only converted three of 14 field goals in the first quarter as, by the end of it, Cazenovia was down 20-8. By herself, Irvington's Brittni Lai had eight points, matching the Lakers' total.
Then it got worse as, early in the second period, Ashley Stec went to the bench with her third foul. Lai continued to light up the Lakers, hitting 13 points by the middle of the period as the margin grew to 21.
Somehow, Cazenovia fought back and, led by Ellen Burr and Raeanne Clabeaux, started hitting shots all over the place to cut the deficit in half. Thanks to this, the Lakers were only down 36-24 at halftime, and happy to still have a chance.