On Senior Night at Maine-Endwell, one exceptional sophomore was most conspicuous as the Spartans spaced themselves from Vestal in a game-changing, few-minute segment of second-half play.
M-E avenged its lone defeat of the season with a 51-37 victory Friday night, in the process moving two up on the Golden Bears in the loss column of Southern Tier Athletic Conference Metro Division standings.
Daniella Dean crammed seven of her team-high 13-point total into a 90-second window to close the third quarter — with unofficial assists bookending that stretch — leading the Spartans (13-1, 11-1 STAC) to a two-digit advantage that lingered for most of the remaining time.
Seniors Julie Yacovoni and Martine Bosch added 12 and 11 points, respectively, for M-E. Senior guard Jen Shelp came up with 14 of her game-high 18 points before halftime for Vestal, which mustered three second-half field goals against Grade-A Maine-Endwell resistance.
Things shifted M-E’s way for keeps in the moments after Vestal’s Meghan Taylor flushed a 3-point goal from the corner to draw her side within 31-27 with 2:32 remaining in the third quarter.
Enter Dani D, an M-E guard with guile and pluck to go with a skill set that sets her considerably apart from the garden-variety 10th-grader.
Dean stole the ball in the backcourt and went up for a goal to make it 33-27, and after a Vestal free throw, dashed ahead of the pack for a left-handed finish to make it a seven-point gap with 1:15 remaining in the quarter.
Then came a combination of awareness, adherence to structure and just plain talent to cap the quarter.
Dean inbounded from the baseline, got lost in the wash with a loop around the perimeter and made herself available on the right wing — from which spot she set and delivered her squad’s lone 3-point goal of the night with seven seconds left to make it a 38-28 difference.
The first points of the fourth quarter, free throws by the Spartans’ Lauren Lamoureux, were set up by Dean’s feed from the high post to the right block.
Thereafter, the lead would dip no lighter than eight points for an M-E squad that dropped a 55-49 decision at Vestal on Dec. 20.
“She got some steals and she went to the basket,” Spartans coach Sonny Spera said of Dean’s improved second-half showing. “I thought initially she was tentative. Offensively, she wasn’t even looking to get the ball against their press. That’s something I hadn’t seen in Dani.”
By chance, might she have been deferring to her senior teammates?
“That’s possible,” he said. “But I think she got it together and played her game.”
First-half play brought some sloppiness and off-target perimeter offerings on the part of M-E to go with a healthy dose of offensive contributions from Shelp — who made good on all 10 of her free throws or the night.
The Golden Bears led 9-7 through one quarter that included a pair of goals by Shelp and a 3-pointer from Molly Liss.
A back-and-forth second quarter brought 10 points from Shelp as well as an initial bit of assertiveness by Dean, who recovered from a near-turnover in the corner by dribbling to the top and then down the lane for a score.
Carla Spera struck from the left wing for two of her eight points 39 seconds before halftime, and Shelp closed first-half scoring by converting two from the line to pull Vestal within 23-22 at the break.
“In the first half they were getting a lot offensive rebounds, and that’s where they’re really strong,” Yacovoni said of Vestal. “They’re good at getting second chances and making up pay for that. (Thereafter) We also made sure we buckled down on defense and stopped their people who were driving to the basket.”
Vestal was within three points for the final time when Annie Ulrich fired in a shot from near the top of the arc to make it 27-24 midway through the third quarter. After a similar delivery by Lauren DiFulvio and Yacovoni’s breakaway bucket off an outlet pass from Dean, the Golden Bears were within four after Taylor drained a 3-pointer from the corner.
That was when Dean ignited a 9-1 M-E spurt.
Of his squad’s first-half struggles, Spera said: “I thought we got some decent looks, but but it’s Senior Night, such an emotional time. Eight seniors and most of them have played together since second or third grade. It’s so emotional, I’ve seen it and I appreciate it more every single year, what the seniors do.
“Not that I expect to miss every shot. … You’re hoping that you continue to take good shots and continue to defend. If we weren’t defending, they could have stretched us.”
As for the difference between the first game against Vestal and Friday night?
“Last game we didn’t have a lot of energy all together as a team, no one really played their best,” Yacovoni said. “This time we were able to come out with a lot of intensity, set the pace for the game.”