The Cicero-North Syracuse girls basketball team is in the Class AA state finals for the third time in four years, thanks to its free throw shooting.
Making 17 of its 18 foul shots in the fourth quarter, the Northstars pulled away for a 61-50 victory over Section VIII champion Baldwin in Friday's state semifinal game at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy.
C-NS meets defending state champion Ossining (Section I) in Saturday night's Class AA final at HVCC. Ossining knocked off Section V's Gates Chili 69-62 in the other semifinal.
“Usually we're not that good at free throws, but tonight we came out and made them,” said sophomore guard McKayla Roberts, who led the way with 15 points.
Baldwin trimmed what had been a 14-point C-NS lead to three points with 3:05 left in the fourth quarter. But the Bruins made the mistake of fouling three of the Northstars top veterans – McKayla Roberts, Samantha Roberts and Elizabeth Miles. Combined, the trio made 13 out of the 14 foul shots they took down the stretch to help C-NS pull away again.
“We have some heady kids who knocked down free throws at the end. It was good to see,” said C-NS coach Eric Smith.
Early on, it looked like C-NS would have no trouble with Baldwin. The Northstars scored the game's first seven points and built a 16-6 lead by the end of the first quarter.
Baldwin had a secret weapon on its bench by the name of Jade Aponte, though. The junior guard made four three-pointers during her court time and finished with a team-high 18 points.
“I didn't think she was that deep of a shooter. I knew she could make three-pointers, but some of those were from five to six feet behind the arc,” said Smith.
Baldwin's aggressiveness at both ends of the floor also had an impact. Defensively, the Bruins made it tough for C-NS to get open shots. Offensively, Baldwin repeatedly drove to the basket and forced the Northstars to foul. Miles, Samantha Tortora and Emilee Norris were all in foul trouble by the start of the fourth quarter.