Cicero Half a decade has passed since the Cicero-North Syracuse girls basketball team entered the Section III Class AA playoffs as anything other than an overwhelming favorite.
Yet that is the Northstars' predicament as it pursues a sixth straight sectional title, directly resulting from Tuesday night's 56-44 defeat to Nottingham in Tuesday night's regular-season finale.
What started out as a celebratory occasion for departing seniors Elizabeth Miles, Samantha Roberts, Richelle Brousseau and Rachelle Walters ended up as a statement for the visiting Bulldogs, who improved to 15-3 and announced its case as the primary challenge to C-NS once the sectional tournament starts.
Nottingham head coach Randy Wright said his team gained confidence from playing C-NS close last season. Remembering that effort, the Bulldogs did not carry the same fear or trepidation that so many other opponents of the Northstars have faced in recent years.
In fact, except for an early 4-2 advantage, C-NS never led once in this game. Its main problem, in the first half, was that Nottingham's pair of talented forwards, Cheyanna Canada and Shauntesha Bryant, controlled the paint on both ends, getting baskets and rarely letting the Northstars inside.
When C-NS switched to a zone defense in the second quarter, Bulldogs senior guard Necedah James made them pay for it, with a series of strong moves and high, floating shots. James' 10 first-half points helped Nottingham take a 27-18 lead late in the half.
Just as impressive, from the Bulldogs' standpoint, was the way it reacted when C-NS cut its deficit to one, 30-29, midway through the third quarter. James answered with six consecutive points, and Nottigham restored the margin to six, 40-34, with one quarter left.
Try as it could, C-NS could not put together any kind of sustained run down the stretch, never getting closer than 43-38, despite 14 points from Miles and 12 points from McKayla Roberts.