As defensive performances go, the one delivered by the Horseheads girls basketball team Thursday night has to rank with the most dominant in Section 4 finals history.
The top-seeded Blue Raiders forced 23 first-half turnovers and yielded three field goals through three quarters in a 62-25 victory over second-seeded Union-Endicott in the Section 4 Class AA championship game at the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena.
Junior forward Amanda Schiefen scored 15 of her 21 points in the first half and grabbed six rebounds to help the Blue Raiders win their second straight sectional title and their eighth under head coach Andy Scott since 2001.
“Our girls don’t want to lose. That’s the bottom line,” Scott said. “They want to win and this is something that they know if it’s in their reach they want to go get it. They’re not really satisfied with sneaking by. They want to go make a statement.”
Horseheads (16-3) is three victories away from a state title and will play either the Section 1 or Section 9 champion in a quarterfinal March 8 at the Binghamton University Events Center.
The Raiders hadn’t played since a similarly dominant 59-26 win over Owego on Feb. 14 gave them their first Southern Tier Athletic Conference Tournament title. They earned their fourth title of the season Thursday, with their division crown and the Josh Palmer Fund Elmira Holiday Inn Tournament providing the other two.
“We’ve been working really hard for these past 13 days that we had off,” Schiefen had. “We definitely came in ready and it showed. … It’s such a great feeling to win back-to-back sectional titles because we’ve worked so hard these past two years.”
The only field goal for Union-Endicott (10-10) in the first half came from Alexis Eastman late in the first quarter to cut Horseheads’ lead to 13-4. Union-Endicott made two more shots in the third quarter and trailed 54-13 after three after facing a 36-8 halftime hole.
The Tigers, who made all eight of their free throw attempts, turned the ball over 29 times through the first three quarters.
Horseheads won its two regular-season games against the Tigers by scores of 61-34 and 60-31. Round 3 saw U-E without top scorer Nicole Kaczmarczyk, who sprained her thumb in a semifinal victory over Binghamton. She was clearly missed, though head coach Matt Morley gave Horseheads all the credit.
“They’ve just got a fabulous program,” he said. ” … They’re just all tough, every single one of them that comes off the bench and all the starters. Their program, you can see it from the modified up, they all know how to play a certain way and that’s to bring a lot of pressure. You’ve got to be able to deal with it and unfortunately we didn’t do it well tonight.”
The Tigers lost several starters to graduation from the team that fell to Horseheads in last year’s sectional final and Morley said the pressure of the moment may have gotten to his team. Morgan Talley and Alexis Eastman led U-E with six points each.
“Their defense is phenomenal,” Morley said. “I would never take away anything from what they do. They make you do stuff you don’t normally do.”
Scott gave much credit to his bench players, both for their work against the starters in practices and for their effort Thursday.
“I trust my second group as much as the first group, they’re just younger,” Scott said.
Ellie Leszyk added nine points, five assists, five rebounds and three steals for Horseheads. Jen LaViola scored seven points, Erin Strollo had five assists and Abbey Benesh contributed six points, four steals and four rebounds.
“We just have a nice group of kids that want to win,” Scott said. “They come from good homes and they’re a family. That’s what we’re all about. It sounds cliché, but the kids really play together as a family.”