When the West Genesee girls basketball team broke a 23-year drought and earned the Section III Class AA title a season ago, it dethroned Cicero-North Syracuse, who had won it the previous eight years.
So maybe it only figures that the Wildcats’ ultimate hurdle to repeating as sectional champions is those same Northstars, waiting for a title-game showdown Friday night at the Carrier Dome.
In Sunday night’s semifinal at SRC Arena, the no. 2 seed Wildcats met no. 6 seed Baldwinsville and looked to be in some stress until a single shot just before halftime triggered an avalanche of points and led to a 67-55 victory over the Bees.
Determined to avenge two regular-season defeats to the Wildcats, B’ville played an inspired first half, seeing Katie Costello hit four 3-pointers in the opening period and not flinching when WG fired back.
Seven times in the second quarter, the lead changed hands, but it was the last lead change that proved most consequential.
With her team down 33-32 and the clock winding down, Madison Smith, who already had 11 points, fired a 3-point shot from the left point that found the net, and Smith was fouled.
The successful free throw completed a rare four-point play, and though WG only led 36-33 going into halftime, the momentum from that play led to a third-quarter Wildcats barrage.
Within the first four minutes of that period, WG had grabbed a 52-35 lead. Even a pair of Bees timeouts did nothing to stop thing as, eventually, the Wildcats’ run reached 31-5.
“We didn’t change anything,” said head coach Stafford Spreter. “We didn’t say anything fancy or inspirational (at halftime). We just settled down and played our game.”
And WG played it so well that, up 63-40 going to the fourth quarter, it sat the starters the rest of the way, Madison Smith having earned 27 points as Catie Cunningham got 11 points and Mackenzie Smith added 10 points.
Getting to the semifinal didn’t prove too difficult for the Wildcats, who in last Tuesday’s sectional quarterfinal ripped past no. 7 seed Rome Free Academy 75-34.
Any concern about post-season nerves vanished within the opening minutes. Charging on both ends, WG forced the Black Knights into all kinds of mistakes, from turnovers to poor shots.
Meanwhile, a string of baskets on the other end allowed the Wildcats to build a 29-4 lead by the end of the first quarter, and it kept going from there, the margin growing to 68-27 before the starters rested in the fourth quarter.
Kaitlyn Walker and Mackenzie Smith combined to outscore RFA by themselves, each finishing with 18 points. Madison Smith had 15 points, including three 3-pointers, while Cunningham had six points. All 10 WG players that saw action earned at least one field goal.
Baldwinsville fell next, and C-NS awaits. They split two games in the regular season, each side winning at home, though the Wildcats’ victory in January came when Northstars senior Amani Free was out with an injury.
Spreter said the key to winning this time against C-NS will involve not waiting until the second half to bring out its best form.
“We have got to play good basketball from the start,” he said.