Horseheads girls basketball coach Andy Scott did plenty of barking, and the players provided a devastating bite on their way to capturing the program’s first Southern Tier Athletic Conference championship.
The pressure applied by the Blue Raiders’ defense, combined with the pressure of playing for a tournament title, was too much for Owego to handle. The Blue Raiders forced Owego into 31 turnovers on the way to a 59-26 victory in the Binghamton University Events Center on Friday evening.
Horseheads senior guard Jen LaViola scored a game-high 17 points, while Amanda Schiefen scored 14 points and Ellie Leszyk added 11 points. Schiefen and Leszyk grabbed five rebounds apiece.
“We’d never won this title before and to come in (after) such a close game with Oneonta and then come to this game, we came out with so much confidencem and we were so prepared and we just got the job done,” Leszyk said.
The Blue Raiders, who lost in last year’s STAC final, had not won a STAC title since joining the conference in 1999-2000.
Owego’s 6-foot-3 senior Rachel Merrill, who was recognized before the game for scoring more than 1,000 points in her high school career, scored 14 points and hauled in 10 rebounds. Her sister, Emily, scored six points.
The Blue Raiders (15-3) knocked Owego off-track in the first quarter. The full-court pressure caused its share of turnovers, but the intensity ratcheted up once Owego crossed halfcourt, when Scott’s barking to “deny” and “take that away” and admonishing his players that a pass was made “too easy” became the soundtrack of the game.
With LaViola and Leszyk spearheading the defense on the perimeter and Erin Strollo and Amanda Schiefen making passes into the post difficult, Owego’s options were limited.
Owego turned the ball over on its first three possessions, and the Blue Raiders never looked back as they burst out to a 16-5 lead, sparked by 13-0 run. Horseheads held Owego to nine first-quarter points while forcing 13 turnovers.
“We just didn’t make good decisions tonight, and we got down early,” Owego coach Scott Snyder said. “We knew the key was we had to hang with them early. They came out with a lot of energy, and we didn’t match it. We just didn’t have energy tonight. I don’t know if it’s from a long grueling game just two nights ago or what, but we didn’t have it.”
Owego scored four more points in the second quarter. The Blue Raiders led 27-13 after an Owego turnover led to a jumper by Schiefen. Abbey Benesh added a baseline jumper with 1:39 left to make it 29-13, and she added a layup for the final basket of the half to give the Blue Raiders a 31-13 halftime lead.
“I was really surprised to see how nervous we were at the beginning, playing in a place where we haven’t been here,” Snyder said. “They were here last year, and they almost won. We just didn’t step up to the moment. I don’t know, I think we were a little shell-shocked, and it didn’t help getting down so much.”
The margin reached 35-15 when Schiefen caught the ball in the high post and rifled a pass to Strollo for a layup. Schiefen picked apart the Owego zone in the third quarter from the high post.
Rachel Stermer pushed the Blue Raiders lead past 30 points with after a 3-pointer from the wing made it 51-20, which was the score after three quarters. The Blue Raiders lead peaked at 55-20 early in the fourth quarter.
LaViola scored nine points in the second half, making up for a performance against Oneonta that left her coach wanting more.
“I was a little disappointed in her, I told her that,” Scott said of LaViola. “I thought she could do better as a senior four-year player and I told her that in a text. I also said she did some great things.
“She came out and she defended one of the best shooters in Section 4 (Jill Silvanic), and she banged (in) 17. She played well. She’s done that in big games for us. I’m really proud of her because I gave here a challenge and she rose to it, she accepted it, she took it.”
Horseheads will not play again until Feb. 27, and its next opponent has yet to be determined. Owego will next play at Vestal on Wednesday night in the sectional semifinals.