Mar 01, 2014 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Big names or small, veterans or younger players, the one constant throughout the Cicero-North Syracuse girls basketball team’s long reign as Section III Class AA champions has been an ability, when necessary, to forget everything else and just shut an opponent down.
And that quality was on full display Friday night at the Carrier Dome, where the Northstars once more turned to its defense and it came through in a big way, handling West Genesee 44-26 to earn its sixth consecutive sectional title.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” said junior forward Emilee Norris, whose game-high 14 points helped her earn tournament MVP honors.
Head coach Eric Smith called this a “pretty cool accomplishment” and said that, while this title did not offer greater satisfaction than the previous five, it still was special for its own reasons.
“I feel great for these kids,” he said. “The seniors did a fantastic job tacking the younger kids to compete. I get into all them all year, so it’s nice to see the reward.”
Not the overwhelming favorite that it was in seasons past, C-NS only entered the sectional tournament as a no. 3 seed, but proceeded to play some of its best basketball in the post-season, rolling past Fayetteville-Manlius in the quarterfinals and rallying in the second half to beat no. 2 seed Nottingham in the semifinals.
Unlike with Nottingham, C-NS had beaten top seed West Genesee in the regular season, but that 52-38 verdict on Feb. 4 only provided partial satisfaction, since the Northstars didn’t shoot well in that game and turned the ball over often, largely prevailing because the Wildcats could not recover from a cold start.
In the title-game rematch, WG did a better job, at least in the early going, finding its 1,000-point senior, Melissa Fumano, who had eight first-half points. The Wildcats also dominated on the boards early, getting all kinds of second and third-chance shots.
Even with that, though, C-NS took the lead for good early in the second quarter, getting eight first-half points from Norris and fighting its way to a 24-18 lead by halftime. But that was just a hint at the defensive shutdown yet to come.
Mixing in man-to-man pressure with a match-up zone, C-NS clogged up the middle in a way it hadn’t done earlier in the game. As a result, it started to get more rebounds and, more importantly, kept Fumano off the scoreboard for the entire second half.
“We knew that if we took their tendencies away, they would struggle,” said Smith.
Norris agreed, saying that the key to a strong defense is good communication between the players and knowing what each other will do when covering an opponent.
As a team, WG had just eight points in the second half and a single field goal in the fourth quarter. Thus, a lead that remained in single digits until Elizabeth Miles hit a lay-up with 5:55 left that made it 35-24 was much more formidable, since the Wildcats had no answer for the fierce resistance C-NS gave them.
Samantha Tortora, who missed the semifinal game with Nottingham due to an injury, returned in a big way, contributing nine points, including a pair of late field goals that sealed it. McKayla Roberts anchored the defense and had six points, with Beth Bonin also getting six points.
About the only negative of the night for the Northstars was that senior guard Samantha Roberts injured her shoulder late in the fourth quarter, and her status for the rest of the post-season is unknown.
Once again, C-NS finds itself in the state Class AA tournament, ready to travel to Troy’s Hudson Valley Community College next Saturday at 1:45 to face the Section II champion (Albany or Shenendehowa) with a berth in the March 14-15 state final four at that same HVCC arena at stake.
Norris said that, while winning yet another sectional title was great, much more could still be accomplished, and with a defense similar to what blanketed West Genesee, it just might happen.