While clearly enjoying its finest season in recent memory, the Vestal girls basketball team hasn’t been able to solve Horseheads.
The Golden Bears are 8-2 this season, but a second loss to the Blue Raiders came by 57-43 on Friday night. In that one, Horseheads scored the final 10 points of the first quarter to take a 16-6 lead and Vestal drew no closer than seven the rest of the way.
“This is a program you want to beat, especially when you know what they’ve done,” said Vestal coach Joe Reynolds of Horseheads, which beat his squad 58-32 on Dec. 17. “They’re a contender every year, they’re used to being in big games while this is still new for us.”
Despite the loss, it has been a successful season for Vestal. Led in large part by the senior duo of Jen Shelp (14.1 points per game) and Annie Ulrich (11.4 ppg), the Golden Bears had ascended to the No. 10 spot in New York State Sports Writers Association Class A state rankings.
Vestal still maintains hopes of a Southern Tier Athletic Conference Metro Division title. It visits division leader Maine-Endwell (12-1, 10-1) on Friday, the Golden Bears handing the Spartans their lone loss with a 55-49 win on Dec. 20. The winner will likely advance to STAC semifinals in two weeks.
Horseheads eyes homestretch …
Despite long ago clinching the STAC West title, Horseheads (11-2) is not easing its way into the postseason. Prior to the victory over Vestal on Friday, Horseheads lost 53-43 to M-E, ranked 12th in the state in Class A, on Jan. 17.
On Friday, the Blue Raider visit Cicero-North Syracuse, the 11th-ranked Class AA team.
“We looked at our calendar, and we knew these are great tests for us,” Horseheads coach Andy Scott said. “I love playing in games like these.”
… As do M-E boys
Trailing Union-Endicott by two games in the loss column in Metro Division play — even after Friday night’s 66-62 win over the Tigers — the likelihood of Maine-Endwell’s boys repeating as STAC champion has lessened.
“It’ll be tough. We obviously need help,” said coach Bill Ocker, whose Spartans are 8-4 in conference play to U-E’s 10-2. “We’ve just decided to concentrate on where we go tomorrow, play every game with the thought process that we’re trying to be the best team in Section 4 from here on out.”
Tigers coach Joe Alger said: “We’ve got the lead, but we’ve still got Elmira, Binghamton and Corning twice. … We still have to battle, we still have to fight.”
Though M-E held a nine-point lead with just over 1½ minutes remaining, Friday’s win was not cemented until Kyle Gallagher converted two free throws with 4.6 seconds to play. That trip to the line followed a segment of play during which the sides combined to make good on one of 10 tries in the closing minute– including an 0-for-2 by Gallagher with 12.4 seconds left.
“Before the game we shot about 15 minutes of free throws and we told the kids to stand there and picture yourself on the free throw line with the game in the balance and a few hundred kids screaming and yelling at you,” Ocker said. ” … Kyle after the game was saying that his adrenaline was so high that he basically didn’t have any control of what was going on.”
“It was kind of a wash,” Alger said of both sides’ inaccuracy. “When we shoot 50 percent or whatever — but late, that was the kicker. You make one or two of those late, maybe you get more momentum, maybe you don’t have to try a three, maybe you can get a quick two.”
The team to beat in Southern Tier Athletic Conference boys basketball?
A case could be made for Norwich, last year’s conference runner-up to Maine-Endwell, which hits the road Wednesday with a 13-0 record to face a much improved Owego squad.
The Purple Tornado, ranked seventh in Class B by the New York State Sports Writers Association, took a significant step toward the STAC East title with last week’s 65-42 victory over Oneonta before a full house on a brutally frigid night in Norwich.
After that one, Tornado point guard Michael Sutton was asked how many wins the team had.
“Couldn’t tell you. I know the zero, that’s all that matters,” he said in the wake of a 24-point, four-assist effort that featured a 13-point opening quarter that brought three 3-point goals in as many attempts. Michael Oralls added 11 points, eight rebounds and six assists for the winners against the Yellowjackets’ mix-and-match defensive looks.
By way of summing up the root of his team’s success this season, Norwich coach Tom Collier cited defense.
“We start every practice with defense, we talk about defense all the time,” he said. “We play a tough man-to-man defense. … Our whole thing is, we play tough defense and we take pride in that. That’s the staple of what we do. We can score, but we’re going to come at you, we’re going to play you man-to-man and the better man’s going to win. That’s our viewpoint. Me against you, man-to-man.”
As for the Tornado’s home-and-home sweep of a sound Oneonta squad, Collier doffed his cap Sutton’s way.
“If you look at Oneonta and you look at us, we’re very similar teams,” he said. “But the difference between their team and our team is we have an exceptional point guard — and I think (Oneonta coach Jerry Mackey) would tell you that. Jordan Gutierrez is more of a 2-guard, he plays some 1 and some 2. He put (Paul) Bischoff at the 1.
“The difference between our teams is Michael Sutton. He’s an all-state point guard.”
Gutierrez, who entered that game with a 26-point average against teams other than Norwich, has scored 16 in the two Norwich games.
Lady ‘Jackets on track
The day after Norwich’s boys decked Oneonta, the Yellowjackets girls returned the favor with a 60-51 home-court victory over Norwich, with Mariah Ruff scoring half of her 22-point total in an opening quarter that concluded with the ‘Jackets leading by 14.
Oneonta accounted for the final 15 points of that first quarter. That outcome left Oneonta perfect in STAC competition and once-beaten overall.
The Yellowjackets are ranked third in Class B, trailing Irvington — 38-point winner in last year’s state title game — and No. 2 Utica Notre Dame. Oneonta improved to a 12-1 record with a 46-39 win over Kingston, which made it consecutive weekends with victories over the Class AA opponent.
Beers zeroing in
Franklin’s Jordan Beers drew within 26 points of solo No. 2 all-time on New York’s list of girls basketball scorers with 27 points in Friday’s 51-33 victory at Morris. Twenty of her points were scored before halftime, and she closed with four 3-pointers and eight steals.
Beers’ varsity total is 2,180. No. 3 on the list is former Odessa-Montour ace Stefanie Collins with 2,204. Megan Shay of Candor is second-best with 2,205.