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.