Call it an example of a coach knowing his personnel, and pushing buttons accordingly.
Maine-Endwell’s girls made it six Section 4 titles in eight years with Friday’s 67-46 win over Vestal, in the process registering 21-point second- and third-quarter showings.
Spartans coach Sonny Spera had a piece of advice pre-game for Daniella Dean, the point guard and lone sophomore starter for a senior-laden bunch. Upon conclusion, Dean’s 16-point total trailed only senior teammate Julie Yacovoni’s 21, and scoring was just a slice of the youngster’s overall contribution.
“What I told Dani before the game started was, ‘Listen, big game, big game for the seniors. Now, they could be a little bit tight because they’re not going to come back. You’re a sophomore, play loose, have fun, and get after it because you’ve got a couple more years.
“She’s just a player, she just likes to play. When she’s at her free-wheeling game she’s at her best. But I also thought our seniors did not get tight.”
With the state playoff opener scheduled for Tuesday — 6 p.m. at Johnson City against Section 9 champion Wallkill — Spera was asked if his team is playing at the level he’d like it to be playing.
“We’ll find out Tuesday,” he said. “You’re happy for your kids, they played well, they deserved to win, but you’re still looking at it and saying ‘What could we have done better?’ We’ve got to rebound better. We’re going to play some good downstate teams, you know they’re going to get after it.
“At this point of the year, usually the team that is able to execute what it wants to execute is the team that is going to be successful. If we can execute offensively and defensively, then we’re going to have a shot.”
Spera, by the way, offered a big-time tip of the cap to Alex Evans, a 5-foot-9 junior forward who scored 12 points for Vestal in the final.
“Alex Evans is the best offensive rebounder I’ve ever seen (among high school girls),” he said. “She’s on the ball every time– just comes out of nowhere. She’s special.”
A Ruff matchup
As a first-team all-state selection bound for Division I basketball, the credentials of Oneonta senior Mariah Ruff have been long established. While her offensive skills have been most widely recognized, it was her work on the other side that drew high praise over the weekend.
With Ruff playing a primary role, the Yellowjackets rallied from a 10-point third-quarter deficit to a 51-44 victory over Norwich for Section 4’s Class B championship– extending the program’s streak to seven consecutive sectional titles.
A change to man-to-man defense near the midway point of the third quarter triggered a 22-0 scoring spree by the Yellowjackets, and clearing injected some oomph into a struggling squad.
“We have two or three things that we do in our man offense that are go-to’s,” Norwich coach Josh Bennett said. “They took those away very, very well.”
Just how much a factor, Bennett was asked, was the determination of the best player in uniform to extend her Oneonta playing days at least one more game?
“I’m sure that had a ton to do with it,” he said. “I also think you can attribute it to the fact that the best player on the floor … She’s an amazing kid. She makes plays that I don’t think anybody else that we played all year, or my entire coaching career, makes.
“She definitely made some great offensive rebounds on foul shots that I thought were crucial. The other thing I think that she did was, she guarded Breanna (Cashman). If you know anything about what we do offensively against man-to-man, Breanna is a huge part of what we do in terms of creating our offense. When she went to Breanna I think Breanna, she got frustrated and she couldn’t do the things that she is normally able to do.
“Mariah has such a good feel for the game defensively that she’ll jump everything. She’ll get to the turn to the basket much quicker than any other kid you face. I though defensively she played an amazing game, probably the best game I’ve ever seen her play defensively. Obviously she’s always going to make plays on offense, she’s always going to make open shots.”
The Matt’s have it
A couple of junior reserves played prominent roles for Union-Endicott’s boys in Thursday’s 73-61 win over Elmira for Section 4’s Class AA championship.
Guard Matt Gaydorus had three 3-point field goals in a 13-point outing, and Matt Bowman did high-quality work on the interior for the Tigers, who picked up their second sectional title in four years.
“That was when we started getting some good rebounds was when Matt Bowman came in, he got some quality rebounds,” coach Joe Alger said.
“(Bowman) played really big for us,” said senior guard C.J. Krowiak. “He’s had his moments, he’s capable of playing really well. He didn’t really come out of his shell_ until tonight. Tonight was the night to do it, too.”
The Tigers are off until Saturday and a 5:45 state quarterfinal against either Mount Vernon or Newburgh at Binghamton University’s Events Center.
“It’ll be a fast-paced game, we’ll have to work on some of our full-court stuff,” Alger said. “We’ve been in this position before, we know what we’re going to be up against. It’ll be a tall mountain for sure, but these boys, they understand that we’re one win away from Glens Falls. We’re getting a first-round bye this year and we said, if there’s a time to win (Section 4) it’s this year.
“I’ve been to Glens Falls to see my brothers play, I’ve been there as a ball boy. I’d love to coach in that place.”
M-E chalks up another
Maine-Endwell’s boys made it three Section 4 Class A titles in a four-season stretch with Friday’s 69-40 rout of Owego. The Spartans struggled in the early stages before grabbing a 33-21 lead at halftime, and put it away with 28-8 command of the third quarter. With just two teams qualifying for Class A playoffs, M-E had experienced a lengthy break from competitive ball.
“It’s pretty hard, but we have competitive practices and the coaches are pretty tough on us, preparing us during the break,” said Jake Sinicki, who scored 16 points.
Of his team’s focus to begin second-half play, coach Bill Ocker said: “We wanted to guard, we did a great job with the ball, we didn’t turn the ball over. We didn’t make shots early but we kept at it, kept battling and got the ones we wanted, and they started to fall for us.”
On defending Miranda
How’s this for a gauge of just how dominant a force Harpursville’s Miranda Drummond has become:
Norm Szwec, coach a Candor squad that was a 59-42 Harpursville victim in the semifinal round, was asked what is an acceptable scoring total for the Hornets’ senior.
“We would have liked to keep her under 30,” he said.
“We figured 10 points from the free throw line, 10 in transition and make her earn 10. That was kind of our goal, but we couldn’t keep her in check in the full-court game.”
Drummond closed that game with 37 points, and next came the final against Lansing. She scored 24 in that one, by far her lowest total in four sectional playoff games. Bobcats coach Stu Dean was posed the same question regarding an acceptable defensive yield.
“She’d been averaging 37, our goal was to cut that in half,” Dean said. “I don’t know if it’s realistic, but that was our goal. She’s a tough guard. We don’t have anybody that athletic, that size. Our athletes are 5-6, maybe 5-7.”
Harpursville advances to a state quarterfinal against Section 3 champion Little Falls, each team sporting a 22-0 record. Had someone suggested 22-0 to coach Kurt Ehrensbeck back in November?
“I’d say I don’t know, because I don’t know what we have,” he said. “I know we have Miranda, but I don’t know who else I going to be able to fill in the pieces.”
He added, “I’ve been more fortunate than anyone in Section 4 to have the Division I talent I’ve had, and for me it’s just trying to develop other players to do specific things. I’m making role players of the other kids.”
Too tall a task
Amanda Schiefen, a 6-1 junior forward for Horseheads, made quite the impression on U-E coach Matt Morley during the Blue Raiders’ 62-25 roll to the Class AA title Thursday.
A 14.1-per-game average scorer, Schiefen accounted for 19 of her 21 points before the final quarter.
“Just a really tough girl. She’s got great size, she’s got a quick move to the basket and she can shoot it from 15 feet,” Morley said. “Really tough to guard. We did a pretty good job with her during the year with Alexis Eastman, who’s a great athlete, too. When she’s making that 15-foot jump shot it’s really tough to guard her because she’s got a Division I body and she can get to the basket really well too.”