Four consecutive times, the Jamesville-DeWitt girls basketball team needed to get past Section II champion Averill Park in order to reach the state Class A final four.
None of those games proved as tough as Saturday’s battle at Onondaga Community College’s Allyn Hall, where the Red Rams nearly threw away a double-digit fourth-quarter lead, but led by junior Meg Hair, it held on to beat the Warriors 52-47.
In many ways, this game resembled the Section III final played on this same OCC court one week earlier, where Whitesboro hung close with J-D most of the way – except here, there wasn’t a 35-minute delay at halftime, and Averill Park made things far more stressful down the stretch.
With less than four minutes left, the Rams led 47-37, having seen Julia Kelner, shut down for much of the game, hit a pair of field goals early in the fourth quarter and Hair net a pair of baskets, too.
Fighting back, AP got, within the span of 70 seconds, two baskets from forward Kelsey Wood and another from Stephanie Jankovic, who had carried the Warriors’ attack most of the way.
And the Warriors got a chance to inch even closer with under two minutes to play, but J-D’s defense stepped up, first with a steal by Angela Bussone, and then forcing another turnover with under a minute left.
This forced AP to foul. Twice, Hair went to the line, and twice she hit on one of two free throws, and that, plus another free throw from Momo LaClair, helped the Rams hang on.
It only figured that LaClair got involved late in the drama, It was her five points off the bench that helped J-D build an 18-9 lead by the end of the first quarter as LaClair and Gabby Stickle again shared point-guard duties in place of the injured Kasey Vaughan.
That margin was the same when Jankovic, as the second-quarter clock ran out, heaved in a shot from mid-court, pulling AP within six, 26-20, at the break. Jankovic then tacked on nine of her game-high 23 points in the third quarter.
Yet after the Warriors cut the deficit to a single basket, 31-29, J-D closed the period on an 8-2 run as Bussone and Hair both converted on a pair of field goals, setting up a fourth quarter where, again, the Rams had to answer an AP push to win another regional final.
Hair scored 11 of her team-high 17 points in the second half. Bussone and Jamie Boeheim each got 10 points, With Kelner adding eight points and LaClair finishing with seven points.
So it’s back to Troy’s Hudson Valley Community College, where J-D will seek a second consecutive state Class A title as the lone Section III representative since West Genesee (Class AA), Bishop Ludden (Class B), Thousand Islands (Class C) and Watertown IHC (Class D) lost their respective regional finals.
The Red Rams meet Section XI (Suffolk County, Long Island) champion Elmont Friday at 1:30 in the semifinal round. The winner goes to next Saturday’s state title game at 7 p.m. against Somers (Section I) or Pittsford Mendon (Section V).