Onondaga 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.