Mar 09, 2013 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
A lot of time is spent by basketball teams, at all levels, practicing free throws. What they hope for is something close to what the Cicero-North Syracuse girls pulled off against Albany in Saturday’s Class AA regional final at Onondaga Community College’s SRC Arena.
At one point in the fourth quarter, the Northstars connected 14 consecutive times from the foul line, and all of them were needed to beat the Falcons in a 51-49 thriller not decided until the final horn.
Clinging to that two-point lead, C-NS saw the ball tied up on an inbounds play with one second left. Albany had the possession arrow, so it had a chance to tie or even win the game if it could get a shot off.
Choosing to go inside, the Falcons went to India Terrell – but pressured by Elizabeth Miles, her shot was off target, and the Northstars had clinched another trip to Troy’s Hudson Valley Community College for the state final four.
“The kids found a way,” said head coach Eric Smith.
Again, the senior veterans led the way. Abbey Timpano poured in 20 points, while Sarah Bowles gained 16 points and Cara Gannett finished with nine points.
“Sarah, Abbey and Cara have been through it,” said Smith. “They’ve learned to grow up in big-game situations, and aren’t fazed by it.”
Finding a way to win first involved a new defensive approach. Accustomed to showing man-to-man pressure, the Northstars would play in a zone most of the afternoon, taking away chances for Chandler and her fellow Falcon forwards and daring Albany to shoot from outside.
For most of the first half, it worked well. Albany made just one of 15 shots in the first quarter, and with Timpano, Bowles and Gannett each converting baskets, C-NS led by as much as 15, 24-9, late in the second period.
Then the Northstars hit a drought, going more than six minutes without a field goal. That gave the Falcons time to regroup and start out on a 19-6 run that stretched deep into the third quarter.
“We got complacent with a lead, and that was a mistake,” said Timpano.
Smith put it another way. “We stopped attacking and posting, and they (Albany) made adjustments,” he said.
The adjustments included more work for the guard tandem of Emia Willingham-Hurst and Ayanna Hunter, who found success driving through C-NS’s defenses for key baskets throughout the second half.
What saved C-NS was the Falcons getting too aggressive on defense, which led to a series of fouls in the fourth quarter. Seven times, either Timpano or Bowles went to the line. Every time, they made the shots, 14 in a row before Gannett missed a pair in the final minute.
Even though the Northstars had not faced any sort of late-game pressure in the post-season to this point, Timpano said they were ready for it because they had practiced these scenarios often.
“We just had to stay calm and get the job done,” she said
Albany, who never led, kept in it right to the end, as Willingham-Hurst hit a runner with 3.0 seconds left, cutting C-NS’s 51-47 lead to two. And its defense forced one more chance, but the Northstars turned it away, assuring that the dream of a third consecutive state title remained alive for another weekend.
Friday night’s state semifinal at Troy’s Hudson Valley Community College brings the season full-circle as C-NS gets to face Gates-Chili (Section V) – the very same team that smashed the Northstars 61-33 in the season opener on Dec. 8.
“We’re out to make sure that that doesn’t happen again,” said Timpano. “We’re a completely different team now.”