Cicero-North Syracuse’s defensive strategy to upset Gates Chili in Friday night’s Class AA girls basketball state tournament semifinal was simple: Pack in a 2-3 zone and hope the Spartans don’t get hot from 3-point land.
“We’re definitely better at driving, so I can see why,” Gates Chili point guard Kori Bayne-Walker said.
But they’re darned good shooters, too. Bayne-Walker hit a season-high four 3-pointers, Diona Johnson dropped in all four of hers in the first half and Spartans dethroned the two-time defending champions, 58-47, at Hudson Valley Community College in a game that was tougher than expected. Why? Gates Chili (24-0) had pounded CN-S (19-4) by 28 points back on Dec. 8.
The Spartans get their second crack in three years at their first crown when they play Section I’s Ossining (20-4) in Saturday’s 8:45 p.m. championship at HVCC. Led by 27 points, 8 rebounds and 7 steals from University of Connecticut-bound guard Saniya Chong, Ossining was a 66-58 winner over Sachem East.
“If you run out and guard them on the perimeter then they’re going to make twos, they’re going to attack the basket,” C-NS coach Eric Smith said. “We were hoping they wouldn’t make that many 3s but they’re good players. Good players step up in big games.”
Bayne-Walker scored a game-high 22 points on 8-for-13 shooting, including 4-for-5 from beyond the arc, and Johnson added 15 points while shooting 4-for-10 from deep. Junior forward Cierra Dillard had 13 points and 11 rebounds, and junior guard Samantha Heiler also made a pair of 3-pointers, as Gates was 10-for-27 from long range.
C-NS tried some man-to-man defense, but that didn’t work, either. Still, the North Stars made a game effort. In fact, while Gates Chili threatened to pull away a few times, leading by as many as 18 points in the third quarter, it never could.
“I felt like we were managing the score more than we were just playing,” said coach Tara Graziadei, who’s used to seeing her players put the pedal to the floor and hold it there.
Said Smith: “We didn’t go away.”
A 16-4 surge that started late in the third quarter ended when Sarah Bowles finished a fast-break layup with 4½ minutes left to play and C-NS trailed 48-42. The North Stars came up empty on a couple of possessions. Dillard made two free throws and then Bayne-Walker delivered the knockout punch, canning a 3-pointer.
She’s used to beating teams off the dribble, not with her jumper.
“She kept feeling it and feeling it,” Dillard said.
And now Gates Chili’s feeling is: One more win. Two years ago, C-NS beat the Spartans in the final, then C-NS beat Penfield last year with its star center, UConn freshman Breanna Stewart, leading the way. She was there as a fan on Friday.
“I’m excited. We’re pumped. We’re ready to play,” Graziadei said.