TROY – For those who doubt the adage that “Defense wins championships,” a look at the state Class B championship trophy earned by the Susquehanna Valley girls basketball team Saturday evening should be sufficient proof that indeed it does.
On a day when its offense found the going a bit rough late, SV’s defense was again the difference, stifling a potent Hoosick Falls offense en route to a 51-45 victory in the Class B final at Hudson Valley Community College.
Courtney Knapp and Shayna Lee each scored 10 points while Erin Nolan and Paige Finch added nine points apiece for the Sabers (19-5), who two weeks after winning their first Section 4 title captured the first state title in program history.
“I don’t think anyone ever would have believed that we would make it here and actually win,” said Nolan, named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. “That was our goal, we wanted to win something big, and we finally did.”
SV’s offense was clicking through the first 2 1/2 quarters, the Sabers taking a 38-25 lead when Nolan sank a pair of free throws with 5:08 remaining in the third quarter.
But then SV’s offense got bogged down, the Sabers settling for too many outside shots, and Hoosick Falls began to peck away at the deficit.
The Panthers drew within 40-36 on Kelly Pine’s three-point play with 1:59 to go in the third quarter, and when SV turned the ball over on its enusing possession, things began to look a bit dire.
However, Hoosick Falls would make just one basket the rest of the way. Following the SV turnover, Finch drew a charge on Pine – the foul her fourth and sending her to the bench – and moments later Finch’s teammate Hannah Haskell would draw a charge on Megan Flynn, her fourth foul as well with 30.4 seconds left in the third quarter.
Early in the fourth, Finch and Haskell would then delivered offensively. Finch hit a runner in the lane to open the quarter and Haskell nailed a 16-footer to put SV ahead 44-36 with 5:35 to go.
Hoosick Falls (24-2) would get no closer than four the rest of the way, SV sealing the victory by hitting 6 of 8 free throws over the final 2 1/2 minutes.
“For Hannah and Paige, all year they’ve been tough on defense,” SV coach Chad Freije said. “Those are two girls that are not afraid to step in and do what the team needs for them to do.”
Finch, who also had 12 rebounds, knew her basket to start the fourth quarter was a big one.
“I had the ball, and I was like ‘we have to get score to back up’,” Finch said. “We were started getting down on each other. … so I just took it to the basket.”
SV held Hoosick Falls to 25 percent shooting (13-for-52). Kelly Pine had 15 points and Chelsea Stevens added 12 on four 3-pointers but otherwise it was a difficult day for the Panthers against SV’s constant full-court pressure.
“”We struggled offensively, we just couldn’t get into a groove and that’s because of their defense,” Hoosick Falls coach Eamonn DeGraaf said. “They had good pressure defense and that didn’t allow us to get into offensive sets.”
SV scored the game’s first nine points, the first five by Courtney Knapp. She hit a leaner in the opening minute and then nailed a 3-pointer from the right wing, a welcome beginning considering the sophomore had been in a bit of shooting slump according to Freije heading into the title game.
“This was a big game for us so I was trying to do what I could to get us out to a big lead,” Courtney Knapp said.
SV’s lead remained between 5-10 points the remainder of the first half – the Sabers taking a 31-23 lead into halftime – before it looked like it might break things open in the third quarter.
Courtney Knapp hit a 3-pointer to open the frame, and following a long 2 by Pine, Nolan scored four straight points to put SV ahead 38-25.
Things got considerably more interesting for SV, but in the end it was a most satisfying outcome.
And considering nearly the entirety of the Sabers’ roster – aside from seniors Jordyn Williams and Lindsay Gregory – should be back next season, future state championship hardware isn’t out of the question.
“I’m very excited for next year,” Finch said. “It will be my senior year, it’s a group of girls I love, we can definitely do it again.”