PINE PLAINS – The Pine Plains girls basketball team arrived early for its Class C high school state semifinal game last March.
From the bleachers at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, the Section 9 champions watched the preceding semifinal contest, as Section 3’s Cooperstown High School rallied for 30 points in the fourth quarter to take down Chautauqua Lake of Section 6. Cooperstown went on to beat Northern Adirondack — the team that beat the Bombers in the semifinals — to win the Class C state title.
With a little more experience a year later, the Bombers will return to Troy Saturday to face the defending state champions in the Class C semifinals.
“We’re expecting to have a challenge, because we know (Cooperstown) won states last year,” said Pine Plains junior guard Frances Snyder. “They’re a really good team, they work together and we’re going to rebound and work as a team, otherwise we might fall apart.”
But, co-coaches Les Funk and Rich Starzyk have kept their team cohesive. The Bombers handled S.S. Seward 64-34 to win the Section 9 title, then topped Section 1’s Haldane 47-31 in a regional semifinal. In the regional final, the Bombers beat East Rockaway, 48-38.
The coaches have made rebounding and defense the focal point of the team’s practices. The duo even took the girls to McCann Arena at Marist College on Thursday to work in a larger gym, in order to ready their girls for the challenge of playing on a larger court.
“The open arena, the backdrop — you just can’t simulate it,” said Funk, whose Bombers enter the semifinals at 17-7. “We have to get used to it the best we can. Last year we had some open looks, but they just didn’t fall. We have to prepare for that so it doesn’t happen again.”
And the Bombers have learned from last year, a season in which they won their first ever Section 9 title and regional title. Junior forward and center Ashley Starzyk said her team must “not be as frantic” as it was in its Class C semifinal loss to Northern Adirondack and “stay calm with the ball.”
“I think the only difference is we know what it’s like and we know what we’re getting into,” Ashley Starzyk said. “The biggest thing this year is knowing what we have to do and putting in all the effort we know we can give.”
The Bombers will need to give every ounce of that effort. Cooperstown enters the final four at 23-1 and boasts six players who are 5-foot-8 or taller. To reach the state semifinals, Cooperstown beat Syracuse Academy of Science 54-30 for the Section 3 title. It then beat Section 4’s Watkins Glen, 62-44, in a regional final.
Pine Plains has studied Liz Millea and 6-foot-2 Julie Ford, who are two of Cooperstown’s top scorers. Millea averages 22.6 points per game while Ford averages 10.9 points per game.
“We need to really focus on (Millea) and play strong defense on her,” freshman forward Haley Strang said. “Their number one girl (Ford) is going to be pretty tough, too.”
Hence why the Bombers made rebounding the focus of practices leading into the game.
“We’re going to be playing against a girl who’s 6-foot-2, I believe,” freshman forward and center Bella Starzyk said. “Rebounding is definitely going to be big for this coming game.”
A.J. Martelli: email@example.com, 845-437-4836, Twitter: @AJM_PoJoSports
Pine Plains vs. Cooperstown
What: New York State Class C semifinals
When: 2:15 p.m. Saturday
Where: Hudson Valley Community College, Troy
Live updates: Follow Journal sports reporter A.J. Martelli on Twitter @AJM_PoJoSports for updates on the game
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