Mar 16, 2013 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Through sheer willpower and determination, the Cicero-North Syracuse girls basketball team made sure that its second encounter with Section V power Gates-Chili, in Friday night’s state Class AA semifinal at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, did not go as badly as the first one.
However, that did not translate into a victory. The Spartans proved too good, beating the Northstars 58-47 in a game that brought an end to C-NS’s run as state champions, which included titles won in both 2011 and 2012.
It was, in a way, a reunion of most of the cast of characters responsible for those back-to-back crowns. Breanna Stewart, now a freshman at Connecticut, made the trip from Storrs to cheer on her former teammates that had proved, by reaching the state final four again, that it was more than a one-player effort the last two years.
The task that C-NS faced was an enormous one. Gates-Chili had, back on Dec. 8 at a tournament in Utica, taken apart the Northstars en route to a 61-33 victory.
While C-NS had vastly improved since that point, few thought that it would make a difference against a side as talented as the Spartans, who were looking to advance to face Ossining in Saturday night’s state title game.
What didn’t make things easier was the way the game started. Gates-Chili had difficulty getting anything going on the offensive side, but the Northstars were worse, unable to score for more than three minutes before Abbey Timpano’s basket broke the drought.
Another problem was that, when the Spartans did convert, it was with outside shots. From a modest 9-8 margin, Gates-Chili started to pull away in the second quarter with five 3-pointers, including two of them from Kori Bayne-Walker near the end of the half that put C-NS behind 28-16 as they went to the break.
Whether inside or outside, very little fell for C-NS as it converted just five of 17 field goals, and the 3s that the Spartans were converting put a dent into the Northstars’ 2-3 zone, a defense it would stay with through most of the game.
When Gates-Chili’s shots continued to fall early in the third quarter, the Northstars found itself trailing by an 18-point margin, 44-26, seemingly headed to the same sort of lopsided result that had marked the first encounter three months earlier.
Just before the period ended, though, C-NS started to fight back. A pair of baskets made it 44-30 going to the fourth quarter, and big shots from Timpano and McKayla Roberts helped cut the Spartans’ margin to single digits.
All told, it was a 16-4 run, making it 48-42 with more than four minutes to play. Several times, C-NS had chances to get even closer, but at the worst moment, it went cold again, with Bowles and Roberts both missing open shots.
That gave Gates-Chili time to regroup, and when Dione Johnson hit a pair of free throws and Bayne-Walker sank another big 3-pointer, the margin was back to 55-42, ultimately out of the Northstars’ reach.
Timpano led C-NS with 13 points in her final high-school outing. Bowles earned all nine of her points in the second half as Elizabeth Miles also had nine points. Bayne-Walker led both sides with 22 points, the Spartans converting on 10 of its 17 3-point attempts.
Try as it could, Gates-Chili could not carry that success over into Saturday’s state final against Section I champion Ossining. Led by Saniya Chong (34 points), who is joining Stewart at UConn next fall, Ossining dominated from start to finish and beat the Spartans 86-69 for the state title.
Now comes the tough part for Northstars head coach Eric Smith, who will see Timpano, Bowles and Cara Gannett depart from his starting five, all of them links to the two state championships that C-NS won.
Together, they escaped from Stewart’s long shadow this winter by going 20-4 and returning to the state final four, stopped only by a superb side that hit the big shots to derail the dreams of a Northstars three-peat.