In last year’s Interscholastic Athletic Conference Small School title game, Tioga had trouble converting from long range and eventually fell to Marathon.
This time around, the Tigers had no such problems.
On Friday night against Groton, the Tigers’ first four baskets of the game were 3-pointers, and they would add two more for good measure in a 50-20 Small School championship-game victory over the Indians at Tompkins Cortland Community College.
Tioga (15-4) scored 23 unanswered points from early in the first quarter till the last couple of minutes of the second to turn a 4-2 deficit into a 25-4 lead, and the Tigers never looked back.
“The hot start certainly helped,” said Tioga coach Joe Robinson. “I think this was expected of them. This group as freshmen won the JV championship, as sophomores won the JV championship, and got to championship games in their junior and senior years. We didn’t get by Marathon last year, but they were hungry for this one.”
Senior Callie Patsellis, this year’s IAC Large South Division most valuable player, led the Tigers with 16 points, including four of her team’s six 3’s. Classmate Hannah Manwaring added 14 points and had Tioga’s other two long-range shots, the first of which put Tioga ahead for good, 6-4.
“We just really worked well as a team tonight,” Manwaring said. “I can say that I really enjoy the feeling, everyone loves winning.”
Groton (12-5) was held in check for most of the game by the physical Tioga defense. Senior Steffanie Preston led the Indians with six points; scoring leader Ruthanne Forehand, averaging 12 points a game this season, had just two. Coach Jen Case said her team’s inability to defend the 3-point line told the story.
“That was what we focused on as our defensive plan, and we didn’t quite do our plan, by any means,” she said. “Our 1-3-1 defense was a little scattered, a little bit chasing the ball and not doing what our responsibilities have been. We just didn’t do our jobs on defense.”
Forehand scored the game’s first basket off a steal less than two minutes in, and after a Patsellis 3 from the left wing, Kylene Hall gave Groton its last lead, 4-3, on a putback. From that point on, it was all Tioga.
Manwaring hit back-to-back 3-pointers, one from each side of the court, forcing Case to call a timeout with 4:24 left in the first. The chat didn’t have the desired effect, as Patsellis drained another from long range and Emily Schweiger got an offensive rebound and putback to give Tioga a 14-4 lead after one quarter.
The Tigers kept pouring it on in the second, scoring 11 unanswered points to open the period before senior Jenna Zimmer (5 points) broke the drought with a free throw late in the quarter. Tioga led at halftime, 30-12, and pushed their advantage to 40-16 after three quarters.
Robinson emptied his bench in the fourth, but Tioga was still able to extend its lead and took its biggest lead — the final margin — when senior reserve Natalie Burns converted a traditional three-point play in the final minute.
Both teams felt the college court, longer and wider than the courts they’re used to playing on, had an effect. Robinson said his team’s ability to get second and third chances on the offensive glass could be partially attributed to it.
“This court is so long and so big, people are tired by the middle of the first quarter,” he said. “I think it’s a big impact on the game; you could see it by the end of the first half, everyone was tired. The whistle wasn’t even blowing and they were running down to the other end of the court. It’s a long way to get there.”
“It affected us more than I thought it would,” Case said. “We haven’t had any conditioning issues, but we were sucking wind pretty bad right from the beginning. Again, I think it was because we weren’t disciplined and we weren’t slowing down when we needed to. We kept going faster and faster.”
Case also credited her team’s opponent for a lot of the problems it encountered.
“They’re a great team, well-coached and well-disciplined,” Case said of Tioga. “That was a huge part of it, they kind of set the pace and we followed.”
Both teams now get ready to open Section 4 Class C play next week. The fourth-seeded Tigers host No. 13 Edison on Tuesday, while seventh-seed Groton plays host to No. 10 seed Bainbridge-Guilford.