The best team doesn’t always win. That’s just how it goes in sports sometimes, especially in a win-or-you’re-done format that exists in postseason basketball.
But here’s what Penfield takes with it, along with some swag that every top seed should, into the Section V Tournament Class AA Tournament: If the Patriots play to up to their ability, they’ll likely be hoisting a trophy after the Feb. 27 championship game.
“If we play the way we’ve been and prepare the way we’ve been, I believe we’re the best,” said coach Mark Vogt, whose team is 19-1 and winning by an average score of 59-32. “But there are good teams in our bracket.”
The nine top seeds will be honored at a luncheon on Friday at the RIT Inn & Conference Center and the 45th annual girls tournament starts on Monday. Other top seeds: Mercy (Class A1), Batavia (A2), Livonia (B1), Wellsville (B2), Gananda (C1), South Seneca (C2), Wheatland-Chili (D1) and Prattsburgh (D2). Livonia and Prattsburgh are the only defending champions.
The top seed has won the largest class seven of the last 10 years. The Patriots have reached the final seven times in the last 10 years, too, but captured only two titles, 2009 and 2012 — the only in school history. Here are five things to watch in the tournament:
1. Defense doesn’t have a bad night: Penfield is allowing only 32.9 points per game, the lowest of any in Vogt’s 15 seasons. That means it should be able to overcome a bad shooting night, which has foiled other Patriots teams. No. 2 Victor and No. 3 Hilton are the only other Class AA contenders.
Penfield swept Victor, winning 63-55 on Dec. 17 and 59-34 on Feb. 2. Senior guard Ali Fitzgerald had a career-high 29 points (four 3-pointers) in the first matchup. The Seton Hall-bound guard averages nearly 10 points. Senior forward Emma Guy, who is going to Boston College, averages 16.2 points and 10.9 rebounds and versatile sophomore Makaila Wilson averages 12.9.
Hilton nearly stunned Penfield on Jan. 12, losing 58-56 in overtime. Guy fouled out in overtime, but Kristen Baumer (7.2 ppg) and freshman Brianne Moxley (6.8) combined for 32 points.
2. Cam Can: Hilton’s Cameron Graupman is averaging 24.7 points and had 26 in its loss to Penfield. The senior guard has carried the Cadets, who’ll likely face Victor in the semifinals. If her supporting cast can get it done, Hilton could be Penfield’s biggest threat.
3. Expect Mercy-BK, Part III: The Private-Parochial League rivals are the top two seeds in Class A1 and if they make it to the final it’ll be a rematch of last year’s title game, won 64-46 by the Kings (15-4), as they claimed a fourth straight crown. Mercy’s last title was in 2010. They teams split matchups this winter with Kearney winning 59-56 on Jan. 12 and Mercy (17-3) winning 57-53 on Feb. 3. A third matchup on Feb. 26 with a trophy on the line could be a dandy.
4. Best Player You Don’t Know: Despite being her school’s all-time leading scorer, Tiara Filbert has flown under the Section V radar for the Blue Devils, the top seeds in Class A2. But she’s good (and not committed to a college). The 5-foot-9 senior averages 18.7 points, 11.6 rebounds, 4.7 steals and 4.7 assists. Batavia lost Madison McCulley to an injury at midseason, but is 17-2. A title would be the first in school history, but looming is No. 2 seed and defending champion Mendon, which has won three titles in the last five years, and No. 3 Wayne, a champion in 2014.
5. Big brackets: The deepest tournament is Class C1, where Gananda (17-3) is the top seed among 18 teams. Class C2 and D1 also have 15 teams. Gananda lost in last year’s semifinals. The Blue Panthers won their only title in 2011 and went on to capture the state crown. Watch out for No. 2 Caledonia-Mumford (17-3), which won last year’s Class C2 title, its first championship since 2000.