Round One of the Section V showdown area girls basketball fans wanted to see went to Gates Chili on Sunday night, as the second-ranked Spartans raced to a 13-point lead and held off No. 1 Penfield, 70-67, in a matchup of the two top teams in the Democrat and Chronicle coaches’ poll.
Most people think there’ll be a rematch between the Monroe County rivals March 1 for the Class AA1 championship. Why? Gates Chili (2011) and Penfield (2012) have split the past two title games and this winter they’re each beating local teams by an average of 30-plus points. That’s how dominant they’ve been.
“I love it. There was a lot of people here!” Gates Chili guard Cierra Dillard said of the jam-packed gymnasium at Roberts Wesleyan College.
And the Spartans (13-0) came up big and ways that they didn’t last season. Five different players combined to hit nine 3-pointers, and Dillard had 25 points and nine rebounds to offset 31 points from Penfield forward Margot Hetzke. An All-Greater Rochester junior who can hurt teams from inside and out, Dillard scored seven points in a 10-2 spurt that produced a 10-point lead early in the third quarter and drilled a long 3-pointer just before horn in the first for a 24-14 cushion.
“We’re seeing such maturity from her, as well as Kori (Bayne-Walker) and Diona (Johnson) and the rest of the team,” Gates Chili coach Tara Graziadei said. “They’re really coming together nicely.”
Bayne-Walker, another AGR pick, added 15 points and five assists and Johnson, a junior, had 13. Each made two 3-pointers along with Dillard and junior guard Samantha Heiler, whose first gave Gates its largest lead, 27-14, just 30 seconds into the second quarter.
“Slightly embarrassing,” was how Hetzke described allowing all of those 3-pointers, “especially when we pride ourselves on defense.”
The Patriots’ man-to-man defense had trouble keeping Bayne-Walker from breaking them down by driving and drawing defenders and its full-court press, which usually forces turnovers that leads to points, wasn’t a weapon because Bayne-Walker, Dillard and Johnson all can handle the ball.
“Kori was sensational,” Penfield coach Mark Vogt said. “She ran the point like a floor general, didn’t turn the ball over and got it to the right kids. We have to find a way to get out and contest those (3-point) shots.”
The 5-foot-9 Dillard was a handful, too, particularly while scoring half of her team’s 18 points in the third quarter. “She was muscling us,” Vogt said.
Gates led 61-49 with 5:45 remaining but as usual the pesky Patriots (10-3) didn’t quit. Hetzke’s layup with 2:49 left off a good find from Katie Kayes cut the deficit to 61-58, but Dillard converted on a drive and then Johnson stole an entry pass to Hetzke, was fouled and made two free throws for a 65-58 cushion.
But the Patriots made it a one-possession game three times in the final 25 seconds. Hetzke’s putback cut it to 67-64, but Bayne-Walker bolted through the press and found Lydia Thomas (eight points) for a layup. Sheila Nesselbush’s 3-pointer made it 69-67 with six seconds left and Bayne-Walker was fouled. She made one of two free throws but Kayes’ running 3-pointer from about 35 feet as the horn sounded hit backboard and rim but missed.