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January 9, 2010

 

Rams nip Tigers in battle for first

BasketballBob Ellis/staff photographer
Cortland High’s Maggie Brown drives the lane past Jessica Kramer (32) of Jamesville-DeWitt Friday at Shafer Gym. J-D won a first-place showdown 52-49.

By TANEY BEAUMONT
Staff Writer

Alyssa Gratien stood at the foul line in Shafer Gymnasium Friday night amid a swirl of emotion and noise.
The senior guard for the Jamesville-DeWitt girls’ basketball team held the fate of the struggle between the Red Rams and Cortland High in her hands in a battle of OHSL Freedom Division unbeatens. With 6.6 seconds showing on the clock and her team clinging to a 50-49 lead — courtesy of a 3-pointer she had buried with 54 seconds left — Gratien had been fouled while shooting, and had two free throws coming.
Tuning out all the tumult, she calmly drained both shots for what ended up, after a missed CHS 3-pointer at the buzzer, a 52-49 win for J-D, the Red Rams now alone atop the standings at 7-0 (8-1 overall).
The Purple Tigers tasted defeat for the first time in eight games overall this season, and are now second in the league at 6-1.
“It was fun,” Gratien, who finished with a game-high 24 points, including four 3-pointers, said with a grin in discussing her late-game heroics from the floor and the line. “That’s what you play for; making these shots is what it comes down to. We practice shooting in pressure situations during every practice.
“Our play as a team and our shut-down defense overall were big. We did a great job of getting Courtney out of the paint and making her take uncomfortable shots,” she added, referring to Cortland’s high-scoring senior center Courtney Tennant.
Tennant still led the hosts with 20 points, complemented by sophomore Maggie Brown with 17. They both ended up with double-doubles, Brown hauling down 14 rebounds and Tennant 13, even with both picking up two early fouls and missing a good chunk of time in the first quarter. CHS was also hurt by the absence of starting senior forward Christine Gutchess, who left the game two minutes into the second quarter with a right knee injury and didn’t return.
In addition, the foul line was an enemy to the Purple Tigers this time around. After hitting 16-of-25 free throws three nights earlier in a 54-50 win over visiting Syracuse CBA in another battle of league unbeatens, Cortland went 8-of-17 Friday while J-D converted 15 of its 18 foul-line opportunities.
“WE STARTED OUT really tight. We got good looks but couldn’t hit anything and only scored two points in the first,” CHS coach Dick Penoyer said. “We felt pretty good at halftime. But foul shooting, and the fact that they were able to take away our fast break, a lot of times by fouling us before we could get out with the ball, was the game.
“They kept running the same play to Gratien. We even practiced against it, but no one stepped out to pick it up. I thought we matched up pretty well against them. We didn’t take advantage of our height, though we rebounded much better from the second quarter on.
“Nacirema Mann did a good job on the boards,” he added, the junior guard with 11 rebounds as the hosts controlled 49 caroms. “All in all the kids did a good job of coming back, but our free-throw shooting wasn’t good, and theirs was.”
“Alyssa is the one we want to have the ball in tough situations; she wants to play,” J-D coach Rob Siechen said of Gratien. “I was concerned about how the girls would react when Cortland made its run in the second quarter to catch us. I didn’t think that we’d extended our lead far enough when they had some of their best players on the bench. But at halftime my assistant, Caroline Cottet, told the girls that they were still in a 0-0 game in a hostile environment. That was the way to look at it. And it worked.
“Very rarely do we play in front of this big of a crowd. I loved it. It was a fun game, and the kids responded. Alyssa, Jessica (Kramer, senior guard) and Nicole (Ortega, senior forward) all had four fouls down the stretch and did a good job of not picking up their fifth.”
CHS trailed 12-2 after the opening eight minutes and rallied back for a 22-22 halftime tie. That set the stage for a second half full of runs, the Purple Tigers going scoreless for a span of 4:41 in the third, which ended with J-D up 36-31, then holding the visitors without a point for a span of 3:13 in the fourth and taking the lead back, going from a 39-33 deficit to a 42-39 lead with 3:34 left before Ortega hit a 3-pointer to end the drought and tie the game at 42-42 just 12 seconds later. A Tennant layup and an inside hoop by J-D senior forward Liz Beville made it 44-44 with 2:38 remaining, and Tennant scored a rebound basket with 2:26 left to give CHS a 46-44 lead.
GRATIEN HIT ONE of two free throws with 2:11 on the clock before Red Rams senior forward Theresa Hernandez canned a jumper from the lane to give the visitors a 47-46 lead at 1:46. A rebound basket by Mann and one of two free throws by Tennant put the Purple Tigers back up 49-47 with 1:12 remaining, but 18 seconds later Gratien hit her most important trey to give her team the lead for good.
Mann converted the second of two free throws with 49 seconds left to apparently make it 50-50, but the point was wiped out on a lane violation. J-D missed twice from inside, the ball going out of bounds off Cortland in a scramble with 13 seconds left, at which point Penoyer called a timeout. Gratien was then fouled and hit her two free throws with six seconds left. After another Cortland timeout, a 3-pointer by Brown was off the mark and trickled out of bounds as the game-ending buzzer sounded.
“Nicole’s (game-tying) 3-pointer was huge,” Siechen said. “The key was that we made our shots down the stretch to get the lead, then hit some late free throws.
“We were able to beat the other best team in the league, definitely the most well-rounded and able to put five good players on the floor at any time, on the road. That gives us a leg up; we play CBA at home Thursday and have to follow this up and win that one or it’s back to a three-way tie (for first).”
“One good thing is that we get to see them again (Feb. 11 at J-D in the regular-season finale),” Penoyer said. “This was just one bump in the road, I guess.”
CORTLAND JVs lost to J-D 45-27 to fall to 2-6 on the season, sophomore guard Liz Torti leading the Purple Tigers with nine points. Freshman Gabrielle Eure took game honors with 16 points for the Red Rams, complemented by classmate Kayleigh Cavanaugh with 14.
East Syracuse-Minoa visits Shafer Gym on Tuesday, with the JV game getting things started at 5:30 p.m.