HOPEWELL – Early in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s Class AA state quarterfinals, Jamestown led by six points and suddenly the versatile Section VI champions were winning the board battle, too, after lighting it up from long range in the first half.
It looked like Gates Chili and star guard Cierra Dillard had finally met their match. Of course, no one on the Spartans’ bench felt that way. “Even if we’re down,” junior guard Deja Johnson said, “we’re still keeping our heads up. We never give up.”
That’s why Gates is going back to the final four.
It used a 13-0 run to surge back into the lead, then held on for a 68-61 victory at Finger Lakes Community College, continuing a somewhat improbable postseason run. But when you have the best player on the floor, can it be all that surprising?
Dillard, the University of Massachusetts-bound senior, pumped in 20 of her 30 points in the first half and grabbed 14 rebounds, but in keeping with the theme of their tournament success, her teammates came through down the stretch. In fact, Dillard didn’t score in the final 4½ minutes. Senior center Jessica Oechsle (six rebounds) and guard Samantha Heiler each scored six points and Johnson had one to account for Gates’ final 12.
Oeschle scored 10 of her 12 points after halftime.
The Spartans (18-5), a No. 4 seed in the Section V tournament, will get a chance to avenge their 86-69 loss in last year’s state championship to Section I’s Ossining (22-2). Their rematch is 6:15 p.m. Friday at Hudson Valley CC in Troy.
“We practiced and practiced and worked on our defense and it all paid off – we’re going back to states!” said Dillard, whose 2,141 points rank 12th in Section V history.
“We knew Cierra can score, but she’s a willing passer,” Jamestown coach Tim Anderson said. “They just played better than us that last eight minutes.”
Chrisanna Green (20 points), Peyton Butts (18) and Maxine Williams (15) led the Red Raiders (18-3), who lost by 21 points to Gates in last year’s quarterfinal. They nearly had enough weapons to win this season.
“At times I was like, ‘How’d that go in?’ They played really well,” Spartans coach Tara Graziadei said. “They were hard to beat.”
Butts hit three 3-pointers and scored 13 points in the second quarter, keying a 13-2 Jamestown spurt to give it a 34-32 halftime lead.
Johnson stole the inbounds pass to start the second half and her layup tied it.
Johnson is the younger sister of Diona Johnson, the All-Greater Rochester guard who isn’t playing this season due to an eligibility ruling.
“I’m doing this for my sister because she means a lot to me,” said Deja, who had 8 points, 4 steals and 4 assists.