Against the top-ranked, three-time defending state basketball champions, Oneonta’s girls climbed from a 14-point, third-quarter deficit and were all-square with Irvington in the final minute.
But the rub o’ the green favored Irvington late Friday morning at Hudson Valley Community College as the Bulldogs salvaged a 55-53 win in the semifinal round of Class B state playoffs.
Mariah Ruff’s penetrating layup was narrowly off the mark, as was Natalie Vanderlaan-Meyering’s put-back attempt through contact just ahead of the final horn, leaving Irvington (22-2) a berth opposite Waterloo (23-1) in Saturday’s final.
Junior point guard Ruff scored all but six of her game-high 26 points in the second half, which began with the second-ranked Yellowjackets (21-2) trailing by 29-16.
It was a 12-12 game through one quarter, but Oneonta was limited to a single field goal — and Ruff was scoreless –in the second.
The widest margin, 35-21, came 21/2 minutes into the third quarter.
“There’s not really any consolation to losing, the girls are hurting right now,” ‘Jackets coach Matt Miller said. “But when you look at the team we lost to, it’s somewhat encouraging to know that we competed with the best team in New York State and had a chance to tie it up at the end.”
That chance came when Ruff dribbled hard down the right side of the lane and delivered a layup that refused to drop. Senior forward Vanderlaan-Meyering retrieved the miss, went back up and drew contact, but the ball rolled around and out — back to her hands, but too late.
The closing minute of play also brought two misfired free throws by Irvington that were rebounded by the shooter — monumental breaks after Oneonta had drawn even at 50-50.
“I think the way some of the calls went today, and in the last three seconds for that layup to not be a foul and for her not to be on the line for probably for an and-one, someone up there was definitely helping us out today,” said senior forward Lexi Martins, who closed with 18 Irvington points.
The Bulldogs were led by point guard Brittni Lai’s 20 points, but Lai — who guarded Ruff most of the way in addition to cleverly orchestrating the offense — fouled out with 1:59 remaining and her team ahead by 50-44.
Thereafter, a 3-point goal by Minnie Webster had the ‘Jackets within three, and teammate Kelsey Baker canned a second straight three and it was 50-50 with 59.2 seconds remaining.
From there, Irvington was 5-for-10 from the line — 1-for-2 on five successive trips. The chase-down rebounds were courtesy of Martins and Alyssa DiCampli, each leading to return trips that Oneonta could ill-afford to surrender while staring at one- and two-point deficits.
“Just unfortunate. They were great misses for Irvington, long rebounds,” Miller said. “(Martins) draws a lot of attention and I think our girls were so worried about a miss short that we forgot about the shooter. We did have box-out assignments on the shooters, but the girls boxing out the shooter both times was on the other side of where the ball came off the rim, unfortunately.”
Irvington withstood a superlative second-half showing by Ruff, who opened a 12-point third quarter by spotting up to bury 3-pointer from the wing 44 seconds in. She closed the quarter by beating Lai down the lane for a goal that dropped a split-second ahead of the horn.
Her fourth-quarter contributions included a penetration into a handsome jump-hook and a spin move into the lane for a short jump shot.
“I think (Lai) played (Ruff) awesome, I don’t think there’s another girl who could have played her any better,” Martins said. “Unfortunately, as soon as Brittni started to pick up fouls, Mariah started to heat up a little bit.”
Said Miller: “I have a lot of confidence in her. Not that I expect her to play at that level, but I expect her to play well against anybody she ever plays against. She creates plays for herself and everybody else. It’s great to have her as a coach, makes my job a lot easier.”
Baker added 10 points and Hayley Dower for Oneonta. Dower scored back-to-back-to-back in the third quarter, two of them 3-pointers.