March 1, 2010
Red Dragons overcome adversity to snatch title
SUNY Cortland women were in a bit of basketball trouble on Saturday afternoon.
Trailing for a good chunk of this SUNY Athletic Conference playoff championship contest against New Paltz, even head coach Jeannette Mosher had some serious second half doubts creeping into her mind.
With scoring leaders Jessica Laing and Micki Volpini both in serious foul trouble for the top-seeded hosts, with New Paltz senior guard Kristen Caban shooting lights out en route to a 22-point performance, who could blame Coach Mosher for feeling pessimistic.
“I tell you, I just didn’t know if we were going to do it,” were the second half thoughts running through Mosher’s mind.
That’s why turning a little adversity into a conference title felt so good for the favored Red Dragons, who finally grabbed a lead with 8:28 left to play on a Laing 3-point shot and went on to beat the upset-minded Hawks 51-45. That triggered an joyous Corey Gymnasum mid-court dance celebration and the traditional cutting down of the nets.
It was the seventh playoff title in school history for the Red Dragons, who have now reeled off 20 consecutive victories since starting second semster play in early January. They will carry a 25-3 record into the NCA Division III tournament that starts this weekend, the brackets for that post-season event to be released later today.
“We knew it was going to be tough. New Paltz has never had a bad game against us,” said Laing after working really hard — and surviving a late-game collision that forced her to apply an ice bag to her noggin afterwards — for the 15 points and 16 rebounds that earned her the Most Valuable Player trophy.
“We had to come out and play our game and do what we wanted to do this semester and the whole year,” the senior forward and team co-captain added.
Though losing in the conference playoff semifinals a year ago, the Red Dragons still made it to the NCAA tournament and advanced into the second round before being bumped off by Scranton. This year the Red Dragons fully expected to run the SUNYAC table and earn the chance to see how much damage they could make in a return trip to nationals.
“THE STANDARD, THE expecations we have here, they obviously buy into that,” said Coach Mosher of this determined bunch of Red Dragons. “But I’ll be honest with you, I knew we could be cutting down the nets but I didn’t think we’d be 25-3 cutting them down.
“They continue to amaze me and come out and do the things we preach every single day,” she added. “I might not be the easiest person to play for. I’m quite demanding. But it says they want the same things, and that’s really important and that’s great. It’s great to see them improve and go out on a daily basis and do those things.”
What they did against gritty New Paltz (18-10), the third seeds who went four overtimes before beating Oneonta 82-79 in the semifinals Friday night at Corey Gym, was hold the Hawks to 19 percent shooting in the second half.
Having just 14 turnover against the ball-hawking Hawks was even more important to this success.
“I think the difference in the game was nobody we’ve played all year has had anywhere near 14 turnovers against us. That’s a low, low mark for one of our opponents,” said New Paltz coach Jamie Seward, which is a tribute to Cortland guards Allyson Biordi, Miranda Lustig and Jen Polan. “Ultimately, that was the difference because they didn’t shoot the ball very well, either, but they got enough shots where they could get it done.”
Sophomore Volpini finished with 12 points, half of those coming during crunch time, as Cortland overcame a 27-23 halftime deficit. Junior forward Jennifer Patten hustled herself to nine points and eight rebounds, most of that coming during Cortland’s second half revival.
“So many girls came out and stepped up for us tonight, and that helped tremendously,” said Laing, as all eight players used by Coach Mosher scored points which was vital in a low-scoring affair such as this one.
Caban was the only New Paltz player in double figures, going 6-for-11 from 3-point range for her 22 points. She was a perfect 4-for-4 from the floor, 3-from-3 from beyond the arc and 2-for-2 from the free throw line while scoring 13 first half points when the Hawks forged ahead.
NEW PALTZ NEVER led by more than five points in the second half, but was still up 38-34 when Cortland stepped things up. In a span of just over seven minutes, Cortland out-scored the Hawks 14-3. When Volpini scored a big basket with the shot clock running down with just over three minutes left, the Red Dragons had their biggest lead at 48-41.
“Because yesterday I didn’t play a great game, I was anxious to have a good game today,” said Volpini, who was limited to 28 minutes of court time by foul trouble. “I had to be careful about those offensive (fouls). I seem to get one a game. Coach just told me to pull up. It was more of a read the defense thing, but it was kind of nerve-racking with the four fouls.”
After Caban provided some New Paltz hope hitting her final trey of the day with 2:45 left to make this a 48-44 game, Volpini drove the lane and scored and Cortland was on its way to the title.
“I think our defense really stepped up in the second part of the second half,” said Cortland’s Mosher. “We got some key stops. Micki and Jess having four fouls was obviously difficult, but when Micki went back in she made crucial baskets. It extended the lead and then our defense took over.”
Coach Mosher felt New Paltz may have showed signs of being weary from playing four overtimes the previous night — a thought New Paltz’s Seward refuted.
“They executed better than we did down the stretch and made a couple of more plays than we did,” said Seward. “You’re talking about a game that was literally one play here and one play there. I was proud of our kids. They fought and that (the OT game) was never going to be an excuse, certainly not anything we were going to talk about, and I really don’t think it was an issue.”
— Along with MVP Laing, Cortland’s Volpini and the New Paltz tandem of Caban and freshman Alexandra McCullough were named to the all-tournament team along with Oneonta forward Erika Puffer and Geneseo forward Brittany Finkle.
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