March 3, 2013
Once the 2013 edition of the Section III girls basketball championships was done at the Carrier Dome Saturday night, we found ourselves celebrating three teams who won it all again and two others who, to get to the top, had to upend the reigning champs to do so.
By far, the most familiar face was Cicero-North Syracuse. It's now five consecutive Class AA crowns for the Northstars after it pulled away from Corcoran 60-31 in Thursday night's final.
The domination by C-NS in the regular season against local AA foes proved that it had a pretty good situation post-Breanna Stewart, what with three seniors (Abbey Timpano, Sarah Bowles and Cara Gannett) that were part of those first two state champions still around to drive opponents crazy.
And the playoffs only reinforced the point. From the triangle-and-two that shut down West Genesee in the semifinals to full-court pressure that broke open a tight final against Corcoran, C-NS based everything on defense, for as long as the other team wasn't scoring much, all was good.
What makes it more effective is that Timpano and Bowles can also produce baskets, as they combined for 36 points (Timpano 19, Bowles 17), more than the entire Corcoran roster, and made sure the Cougars' Mary Morgan did not repeat the 3-point barrage that took out CBA in the semifinals.
Like C-NS, Jamesville-DeWitt built its run of consecutive sectional titles on defense. Also like the Northstars, the Red Rams never got a serious scare on the way to the top this time in Class A, culminating with Saturday's 54-37 takedown of Whitesboro in the Dome.
Here, the great team beat the great individual. The Warriors' Jennifer Deuel, an offensive juggernaut all season, managed another 25 points, but many of them came in the late going, long after J-D had decided matters.
The problem, when facing J-D (as Troy will have in Tuesday night's regional), is twofold. First, the Rams defend every inch of court, feeding off Arriell Mussi's energy as she provides the defensive focal point. Nothing gained against them is done easily.
Second, when J-D is scoring baskets, everyone chips in, from Cydney Goodrum and Alyssa Robens in the paint to Mussi and Kayleigh Cavanaugh on the perimeter to the likes of Maddy Frank and Nyree Mitchell. This is a better team than 2012, and has a real chance of getting to the state final four - if it can beat a Troy side determined to come back home to Hudson Valley CC next weekend.
If there were an award for Most Impressive Sectional Title Run, that's easy - it goes to Utica-Notre Dame, who went from a no. 7 seed to the banner by knocking off the two supposed heavyweights, Westhill and South Jefferson.
But while the Jugglers handily dismissed the Warriors, getting rid of the 19-0, defending champion Spartans in Thursday night's Class B final was another matter. UND trailed most of the game, and then it seemed to get worse when the mighty Emily Durr went to the bench with four fouls late in the third quarter.
Yet here's where playing without Durr in late January benefited the Jugglers in a manner it could not have anticipated. Anari Harris drilled back-to-back 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to put UND in front, and it kept poised even though South Jefferson stormed back and tied it, 43-43, near the end of regulation.
Having not fouled out, Durr took over in overtime, getting nine of UND's 11 points in that frame to give the Jugglers the 54-45 victory. Given what it did to reach this point, it's doubtful that the Jugglers will fear anyone in the regional round or beyond. They're ready for a state title run.
Cooperstown, whatever nickname they ultimately adopt (kudos for the students showing actual sensitivity on this matter), is just as prepared after an impressive run to the Class C championship.
First, Coop had to upend defending champ Little Falls in the C-1 final behind freshman Elizabeth Millea's 26 points. Then it caught C-2 champ Weedsport at just the right time, the Warriors still giddy after it gained sweet revenge on unbeaten Fabius-Pompey in the previous round.
Coop started 12-1 on the Warriors, and never got caught, Weedsport getting within six a couple of times, but watching its comeback attempts run out of steam. N
Not only did Coop prevail 59-44, it did so without a need for Millea to heat up. Inside, the orange-and-black dominated the paint, with the trio of Sumer Murdock, Alanah Haggerty and Nicole Cring cleaning up boards and turning them into buckets, all of it to land Coop its first-ever sectional girls title 12 months after the boys won it all.
That left just one unbeaten team in Section III, of either gender - that would be the Oriskany girls, who exclusively had to think Christina Gradziadei for keeping them perfect.
Oriskany, 19-0, had to beat New York Mills a fourth time this season in Wednesday night's Class D final, and this proved the closest of the four. Tough and resilient, the Marauders only seized the lead a couple of times, but stayed within one or two possessions all game long.
Yet Mills could not do anything about Gradziadei, who had one of the greatest individual performances in sectional finals history. Every bit of Gradziadei's 31 points and 17 rebounds was needed for Oriskany to hold off the Marauders 40-37, though Shannon VanShufflin's late free throw helped, too.
It is, put together, a very strong group of Section III teams heading into state tournament play. All of them can reasonably think they can get to Troy. Over the next week, they'll find out if that reason turns into sweet results.