SYRACUSE Though it was, at times, stressful to watch for players, coaches and fans alike, the Westhill girls basketball team has earned the right to play for a Section III Class B championship.
Better yet, the Warriors get an opportunity for payback, because waiting for them Friday night at the Carrier Dome is Utica-Notre Dame, the defending champions, who ousted Westhill 60-40 in last year's sectional quarterfinals on its way to the title.
Before all that, though, there was the small matter of just getting to the title game.
When Westhill survived Bishop Grimes 43-41 in last Tuesday's quarterfinals, it soon found that its long-time nemesis, South Jefferson, was not waiting for them, since no. 10 seed Altmar-Parish-Williamstown had gone to Adams and stunned the no. 2 Spartans 38-37.
Thus, the no. 3 seed Warriors dealt with the Rebels, a team it beat back on Feb. 3, in Saturday’s Class B semifinal at Onondaga Community College’s Allyn Hall, and this one was in doubt, too, until seniors Anna Ross and Sam Peebles took over in the fourth quarter and helped Westhill get past APW 51-45.
Leading most of the way, Westhill still saw a 27-18 halftime edge vanish late in the third quarter as APW took advantage of the Warriors’ tentative approach and pulled within two, 34-32.
But when the fourth quarter started, Ross, ignoring her injured knee, and Peebles got together to score all the points in an 11-0 run that made it 45-32, something the Rebels could not overcome.
Ross ultimately scored 10 of her 14 points in that final period, while Peebles notched 12 of her 14 points in the second half. Delaney Martin managed eight points and Emily Washburn added six points as APW saw Alexis Stevens (11 points), Erin Stever and Kylie Bartlett (10 points apiece) lead the way.
And now the Warriors could turn its attention to Utica-Notre Dame, the state’s no. 3-ranked team, who has smashed past Holland Patent (68-36), Skaneateles (71-40) and, in the semifinals, previously unbeaten Sherburne-Earlville (85-50), led by Iowa State-bound senior Emily Durr, who is just the eighth player in Section III history to surpass 2,000 career points.
Westhill has not won an outright sectional title since 2003, though it has come close many times in the decade since. The Warriors are close again, and in the Jugglers, have to hurdle past a formidable obstacle to get to the summit.