HENRIETTA — Three years ago in the Section V girls basketball championship, Penfield ran into a Gates Chili team that had an answer for everything thrown at them, and in last season’s title game against Rush-Henrietta the Patriots didn’t play their best and lost.
Saturday night was different.
This time, Penfield put it all together.
This time, with everything on the line, the Patriots played with aggression and precision and poise. They played like they weren’t going to be denied and they weren’t. The top seed scored the first 18 points of the game to stun third-seeded Hilton and won 54-38 in front of a packed house at R-H to claim their first Class AA crown since 2012. They’ll play the Section VI champion in next Saturday’s 3 p.m. state quarterfinals.
“It’s the best feeling. We’ve worked so hard to get back here and everyone played so hard,” said senior guard and tournaement MVP Ali Fitzgerald. “We said: ‘Come out strong in the first quarter,’ and that’s what we did.”
Boy, did they. Other than a few uh-oh moments midway through the quarter when Hilton (19-4) had three trips to turn a 10-point deficit into single digits thanks to back-to-back 3-pointers by senior guard Cameron Graupman, the Patriots (22-1) were in control.
“It’s hard because every time they make a run and we score, (they’re) climbing the mountain again. I’ve been on both sides in championship games, so I know,” said Penfield coach Mark Vogt, likely alluding to Gates’ 62-34 title game trouncing in 2013.
Even with star forward Emma Guy limited by foul trouble, Penfield sparkled because of its balance. Sophomore forward Makaila Wilson, who was charged with harassing Graupman much of the night, had 14 points, 12 rebounds and 5 assists. Senior guard Kristen Baumer had 10 points, including consecutive 3-pointers (one banked in, thank you very much) in the second quarter and freshman guard Brianne Moxley also had 10.
Fitzgerald, who plans to walk on at Seton Hall next season, had 12 points and was a steadying influence because Guy was on the bench from midway through the third quarter until mid-fourth with four fouls. The future Boston College player finished with six points and 14 rebounds. Even 5-foot junior Gabby Pancio chipped in with Guy out, grabbing six rebounds and making a layup after a good cut and feed from Wilson.
“This one is more relief because since April everybody’s been telling me you’re going to win it, but it doesn’t work like that,” Vogt said of his third title. “This is just seeing a great group of kids fulfill their dreams. Their goal was to win the sectionals, so I’m proud of them.”
The teams met once during the regular season and Penfield escaped with a 58-56 win on Jan. 12. The Patriots were razor-sharp early on Saturday. “Definitely the best basketball we’ve played,” Fitzgerald said.
Four different players scored in a 10-0 burst over the first 3½ minutes, a surge punctuated by a Guy steal and pass to Wilson for a transition layup. Then Baumer, Wilson and Fitzgerald drove for layups. It was 16-0. It got to 18-0 before sophomore Alyssa Juergens stuck back in a 3-point miss by Graupman with 1:08 left in the first quarter for Hilton. Before that, the Cadets had rung up 0-for-13 from the field. Graupman missed her first 10 shots.
Hilton coach Jeff Eichas called two timeouts in the first 5:21 to try to stem the tide.
“They put their head down and go,” Eichas said of the Patriots’ aggressive approach. “You’ve kind of got to build a wall and hold your ground or get run over. That’s your choices, and we got run over in the first four minutes.”
Strong and athletic, the 5-foot-11 Wilson guarded Graupman relentlessly in Penfield’s box-and-one defense. Graupman finished with 21 points (she averages 24), ending her six-year career with 1,557. “Just make it really hard for her to get the basketball and get in her face,” Wilson said of her mindset.
Before Graupman scored her first points, Penfield led 23-3 after a Fitzgerald 3-pointer 10 seconds into the second quarter. The damage had been done. “I think that was hard on our confidence,” Graupman said about seeing the depth of the hole they were in.
Penfield knows what it’s like to lose in big games, but that just wasn’t going to happen Saturday.
“Just to finally be here and win and hold up that trophy with my teammates,” Guy said with tears in her eyes, “is the most ultimate feeling ever.”
No. 1 Penfield 54, No. 3 Hilton 38
HILTON: Cameron Graupman 21, Megan Letta 0, Chloe Graupman 0, Allyson Strauss 3, Alyssa Juergens 7, Meaghan McGwin 2, Raine Gardner 5.
PENFIELD: Kristen Baumer 10, Emma Guy 6, Brianne Moxley 10, Ali Fitzgerald 12, Gabby Pancio 2, Isabella Delisanti 0, Olivia Colombo 0, Makaila Wilson 14.
3-point goals: Hilton (Graupman 4, Strauss 1, Gardner); Penfield (Fitzgerald). Fouled out: none.
All-tournament team: Caroline White (Fairport), Franny Valenti (Victor), Cameron Graupman (Hilton), Alyssa Juergens (Hilton), Makaila Wilson (Penfield), Emma Guy (Penfield). MVP: Ali Fitzgerald (Penfield).