A game-changing amalgamation of Maine-Endwell takeaways and Vestal giveaways made for a sixth Section 4 basketball championship celebration in eight years for the Spartans.
M-E outscored the Golden Bears by 20-2 over a floor-tilting six-minute segment bridging the first and second quarters, and went on to a 67-46 win Friday night at the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena.
The telltale stretch of play began with M-E’s Amy Makis cutting to the goal, accepting Victoria Dean’s feed and finishing for a 12-9 advantage 6½ minutes into play. It concluded when Julie Yacovoni converted a free throw 3 1-2 into the second to make it 30-11.
In the interim?
“We could look at the obvious, which is turnovers,” Golden Bears coach Joe Reynolds said. “We started passing the ball directly to them at times, especially from the sideline.”
“That’s our main focus, defense,” said senior guard Dean. “We knew our offense would come but we knew we had to focus on defense, put pressure on the ball.”
Yacovoni closed with 21 points and sophomore point guard Daniella Dean 16 for Maine-Endwell (16-2), which opens Class A intersectional play with a 6 p.m. game Tuesday at Johnson City against Section 9’s champion. That’ll be either unbeaten Wallkill or 16-4 Cornwall, which square off Saturday.
That 19-point second-quarter difference never did dip below 15. Neither execution nor interest appeared to waver, regardless of cushion — perhaps an indicator that this M-E group is zeroed in on another deep push into the state tournament.
Alex Evans scored 12 points and Annie Ulrich eight for Vestal, which split its regular-season meetings with M-E. The difference Friday?
“I think this time we were more prepared and we knew we couldn’t come out weak, we had to come out strong, play our game and not let them get in our heads,” Victoria Dean said.
Punch-and-counterpunch was the order of the opening quarter until Makis’ lone field set in motion an avalanche of Maine-Endwell supremacy.
Victoria Dean tidily wrapped up first-quarter scoring by patiently handling the basketball up top before converting on a dogged, defender-dicing drive with two seconds on the clock for a 14-9 lead.
Carla Spera kick-started the second quarter with an old-fashioned three-point play followed by a 3-point knockdown from the wing courtesy of Victoria Dean’s baseline drive and heady exit feed. That made it 20-9 and prompted a Vestal timeout.
Two free throws apiece by Yacovoni and Daniella Dean were followed by Daniella’s set-and-launch from atop the arc to make it 27-9 with 2:15 of the quarter elapsed. Yacovoni tacked on a softly banked conversion off Daniella’s baseline inbound before Vestal’s initial goal of the quarter, Alyssa Mullins’ interior offering 3:08 in.
To conclude first-half scoring, Daniella snared a defensive rebound, handled end-to-end with no assistance required, and laid one home in a one-on-one situation for a 35-18 Maine-Endwell advantage.
“Seemed like we went a stretch where we didn’t get a shot up,” Reynolds said. “Maine-Endwell’s a transition, open-court team. You live-ball turnover like that, they’re going to take advantage of you.”
“We talked about making sure we keep them in front of us and try to work the sidelines, play Jen Shelp, keep her in front of you,” Spartans coach Sonny Spera said. “You’re not going to get steals because she handles the ball well, but hopefully get her to work a little harder and maybe when she comes into the frontcourt we might get them a little farther outside of their spacing.”
Shelp — “She can flat-out play,” Spera added — indeed withstood more than her share of defensive hounding and was limited to a six-point varsity finale. Included was a 2-for-2 showing from the line, leaving her with what Reynolds believed to be an astounding two-miss senior season on 15-foot freebies.
The game’s first 20-point margin came courtesy of an exquisite find by Victoria Dean who, positioned top/left near the arc, bull’s-eyed a feed to Yacovoni on the right block. Yacovoni finished, was whacked on the play and added the free throw for a 50-30 spread.
Vestal’s Annie Ulrich rattled off the first six fourth-quarter points, prompting M-E to temporarily re-strengthen its lineup. By the time Yacovoni’s signature rain-maker from the right corner brought three points with 4:45 remaining, the Spartans were safely on to state playoffs.
Potentially, Victoria Dean was asked, what might March hold for these Spartans?
“Our defense is key,” she said. “I think we’re capable of a lot, we just have to play our game and be focused.”