The task facing Cazenovia’s girls basketball team in Saturday’s opening round of the Section III Class B playoffs was a mighty one – try and knock off unbeaten South Jefferson.
And the no. 15 seed Lakers came within an eyelash of pulling it off, leading most of the contest before a furious late comeback by the no. 2 seed Spartans produced a painful 49-48 defeat.
Even though it only had an 8-10 record going into the sectional tournament, Cazenovia had gone through a brutal schedule within the OHSL Liberty division, something 18-0 South Jefferson could not match as part of the Frontier League.
In addition, the Lakers, with its tall front line anchored by Maggie Johnson, had a distinct height advantage against the Spartans, which it intended to put to good use in Adams after Friday’s snows caused a 24-hour postponement.
Normally a strong defensive unit, South Jefferson found it difficult to handle that inside size, and when it tried to counter it, Cazenovia connected with outside shots, especially from guards Audrey Burbidge and Kelsi Fredericks.
As a result, the Lakers seized the lead early, and then kept building on it. During an active second quarter, every Spartans charge was answered, and at halftime Cazenovia was in front, 29-25.
It got even better in the third quarter. South Jefferson continued to misfire, and Cazenovia doubled its margin to 43-35, moving itself closer to an enormous upset.
Just at the wrong moment, though, the Lakers’ foul issues caught up to them. Time and again, it kept drawing contact with the Spartans’ best player, Austin Stevens, and she didn’t miss when sent to the line, as she was often in the fourth quarter.
All told, Stevens took 17 free throws, and made 16 of them on her way to 26 points overall, helping the Spartans move in front with less than three minutes left. Then the Spartans’ defense made the key late stops to prevent Cazenovia from pulling it out.