February 26, 2013
Two weeks of Section III girls basketball playoff action has led to the five contests that will play out on the big stage at the Carrier Dome on Wednesday and Thursday night.
How did we get here? Well, in the case of the first two title games on Wednesday night, it's a clash of top seeds. In the case of Thursday night, two powers are defending their crowns, while a pair of hungry sides seek the other banner.
It all starts with Class D Wednesday at 6 p.m., and we've seen this before. Oriskany and New York Mills have faced each other three times this winter - twice in the Center State Conference, once more in a holiday tournament.
Each time, the defending champs prevailed, Oriskany sailing through the regular season a perfect 17-0 en route to a no. 5 state ranking. Playoff routs followed over Poland and Sackets Harbor, the latter a 52-21 semifinal that made it 20 in a row.
The Marauders, by stark contrast, have taken the hard road to the final, fending off Hamilton 43-39 in the quarterfinals and doing the same to Copenhagen 43-42 in the semifinals.
So it's hard to imagine Mills figuring out Oriskany the fourth time around, though to have any chance the Marauders have to contain Christina Gradziadei and Madison Zizzi, a very tall task indeed, and will need big production beyond that of Dominique Talerico, too.
Following the D final, it's Class A, where Jamesville-DeWitt, like Oriskany, is looking to repeat, this time with Whitesboro as the opponent.
To this point, it's been a cruise for both of the top seeds, the Red Rams romping past Fulton and Oneida and the Warriors doing the same to Cortland and Carthage. Of course, J-D carries the big edge in title-game experience, with seniors Cydney Goodrum and Kayleigh Cavanaugh leading the way, plus an Arriell-Mussi led defense that just suffocates opponents.
Now the Rams have to solve Jennifer Deuel, Whitesboro's 1,000-point scoring machine who has 60 total points in the playoffs so far - 34 vs. Cortland, 26 vs. Carthage. Deuel, like many of the Warrior players, faced endless frustration as soccer players trying to knock off J-D the last three years, so there's no shortage of motivation, beyond the obvious title stakes.
Move to Thursday night, and the best game might be the first one - Class B, the showdown between undefeated, top-seeded defending champ South Jefferson and Utica-Notre Dame.
What do you do against the Spartans? Sure, you can try and shut down the inside game of Brooke VanCoughnett and the strong all-around presence of Austin Stevens. But do that, and you leave Clarissa Perry open to make 3-pointers, as she did to devastating effect in playoff romps over two sets of Lakers from Skaneateles and from Cazenovia.
Then there's that vaunted South Jefferson defense, which will no doubt set its sights on Jugglers standout Emily Durr, the way they did last year in the sectional semifinals. Be wary, though - UND is not a one-woman show by any means, and it can play strong defense, too.
After UND was so impressive in stamping out no. 2 seed Westhill, the Jugglers didn't lean as much on Durr in the semifinal against Bishop Grimes, but got 13 from Jaclyn Hajec (who got a lot of playing time when Durr was hurt in January) and 11 from Maggie Sehring to knock out the Cobras 55-41.
In short, it's a fascinating match-up, the first of three that night in the Dome, and it continues with the Class C final that sees C-1 champ Cooperstown meet up with C-2 champ Weedsport.
That's right, Weedsport, and not Fabius-Pompey. In what may have been the sweetest victory any girls basketball team got anywhere this winter, the Warriors took out the undefeated, state no. 3-ranked Falcons 58-51 in last Saturday's C-1 final at SRC Arena.
This was a double shot of revenge for Weedsport - payback for two regular-season losses to F-P, and payback for the Falcons doing the exact same thing to the then-undefeated Warrriors in the exact same C-2 title game in 2011.
It was even a family affair, with Gabby LaForce scoring 22 points and Abby Marsden adding 17 - their older sisters, Brittany LaForce and Libby Marsden, were seniors on the 2011-12 side that got heartbroken at F-P's expense.
All of which could prove advantageous for Cooperstown, who didn't have the same sort of pathos as it dethroned reigning champ Little Falls 51-46 in the C-1 final. Coop did have an amazing effort from freshman Elizabeth Millea, who poured in 25 points, most of them in the first half as her side withstood a furious late comeback from Little Falls. Could Coop catch Weedsport in a letdown?
The last sectional final Thursday night involves the entrenched Class AA champs from Cicero-North Syracuse going for five in a row against the last side other than the Northstars to win it all - Corcoran, whose 2008 title predated the Breanna Stewart era.
C-NS bashed the Cougars 63-28 on Feb. 12 in the regular-season finale, so why the suspense? Because it's hard to imagine the Northstars, even with a defense that used a triangle-and-two to shut down West Genesee's Melissa Fumano and Vicki Graveline in a 60-28 semifinal laugher, being as effective the second time around against a Corcoran side that can hurt you many ways.
If it wants, the Cougars can go inside to Jasmine Davis, Shauntesha Bryant or Zachia Gayle, all of whom are capable of double-doubles on any night. Or it can just watch Mary Morgan fire away with those line-drive 3-pointers - she made eight of them, and also sank some clutch free throws, made a key block and grabbed an important rebound in the waning seconds to stop CBA in a 64-61 semifinal classic.
Most likely, C-NS will spring Abbey Timpano and/or Sarah Bowles on Morgan and follow her to the ends of the Earth, and take their chances with the rest. These Northstars are bent on winning sectional and state titles of their own, to prove that it wasn't all Breanna.