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March 03, 2007

 

Late surge rescues Red Dragons

Medaille beaten 72-67 in NCAA opener

Basketball

Bob Ellis/staff photographer
SUNY Cortland senior Erin Dabe tries to wrestle the ball away from Medaille College’s Janessa Vandergriff (22) and Marisa Clark (21) Friday night at Corey Gym. Cortland opened NCAA tournament play with a 72-67 victory.

By ALAN BUTLER
Sports Editor

It seemed like SUNY Cortland women were battling from behind all night long.
So when the Red Dragons faced a six-point deficit with some seven and a half minutes left to play in this NCAA Division III first round basketball challenge, it was hard to image the hosts had one more surge left.
Well, they did.
The Cortland offense clicked at the perfect time while pulling out a 72-67 victory over rugged Medaille College before an energetic Corey Gymnasium gathering of over 1,000 folks on Friday. With sophomore back-up guard Kristin Ciccone providing a huge spark off the bench, with Cortland coming close to having five players finish in double figures, the Red Dragons made this 40th consecutive home court victory a memorable one.
“I told them that I’m really enjoying watching this. Why don’t we just win the thing,” said Cortland coach Jeannette Yeoman after her team kept responding under pressure.
Cortland (25-2) will face the University of Rochester (21-5) at 7:30 p.m. this evening in a second round match-up back at Corey Gym. The Yellowjackets opened last night’s doubleheader with a 65-57 win over St. Lawrence.
“This team was a step up from the teams we play, but a lot of people underestimate us and the teams we play. We showed we could do it,” said Ciccone, who had a pair of crucial 3-pointers in the late going as part of her 10-point, seven-assist showing.
The Red Dragons did it with freshman forward Jessica Laing coming through with a game high 24 points and 11 rebounds battling this bigger foe from Buffalo. Laing’s 3-point swish from a Ciccone feed tied this game at 60-60 with 4:48 left to play, and she put the Red Dragons ahead for keeps when she converted a lob pass from guard Maggie Byrne into a basket 40 seconds later.
They did it with Byrne firing in 17 points to go along with five assists — including a trio of 3-point shots. They did it with junior forward Sara Cavanaugh scoring 11 points to go along with eight rebounds and a couple of blocked shots. They did it with senior guard Kerry Costello falling just shy of double figures with eight points.
“We had a number of people step up for us at different times, and that was the key. And that is going to be the key in the post-season,” said Yeoman.
MEDAILLE JUNIOR forward Amanda Baker was as good as advertised, as the Allegheny Mountain College Conference Player of the Year finishing with 15 points and 13 rebounds. The constant attention the 6-footer drew underneath from the Red Dragon defense provided open looks for her teammates, too.
And junior guard Marisa Clark provided huge Cortland headaches, scoring 16 of her 21 points in the first half for the Lady Mavericks. Clark also collected eight assists.
So give Cortland credit. Despite being unable to slow down Clark in the early going, despite being out-rebounded 25-16, despite seeing the visitors shoot 50 percent from the floor, Cortland trailed only 39-37 at halftime.
And though Cortland fell behind 43-37 over the opening moments of the second half, Medaille was unable to turn three Red Dragon turnovers and a pair of blocked shots by 6-foot-4 junior center Sara Bukas into any points or the deficit may have been even larger.
That gave the Red Dragons this comeback opportunity they grasped.
“Oh my god, it was so physical,” said Red Dragon Byrne of this clash with Medaille, the regular season and playoff champions in the AMCC who saw a 14-game winning streak snapped while finishing a 23-5 campaign. “They are a big, physical team and it can be intimidating. You just have to put it in the back of your mind and play your game.”
Byrne and the Cortland defense also had to make sure Clark didn’t turn Corey Gymnasium into her own playground. The Red Dragons held the Medaille backcourt whiz to just five points in the second half.
That defensive effort and a resurgent offense brought Cortland back. A boisterous backing from the crowd helped, too. “I love big crowds,” said Laing afterwards. “That definitely got me going. I had a lot of friends and family here too, so I was pumped to play.”
A LAING CORNER trey gave Cortland its first second half lead at 47-46, though that edge did not last long as Baker came down and scored over a Red Dragon double team in the low post.
Cavanaugh made a baseline jumper to put Cortland back in front, but Medaille regained control by scoring the next five points. When guard Carissa Ferrucci hit a short pull-up shot in transition, Medaille led 57-51 and Cortland seemed in trouble.
It was the perfect time for Cortland shooters to rise to the occasion.
The next three baskets by the Red Dragons were 3-point connections fired by Ciccone, Byrne and Laing — the latter two creating ties of 57-57 and 60-60.
Once the Red Dragons moved ahead, Byrne and senior Erin Dabe each drove for critical baskets to help maintain the lead. And when Medaille pulled to within 66-65, Ciccone came up with the game’s biggest shot — a corner 3-pointer with 1:30 left to play.
Laing yanked down a couple of rebounds off the defensive boards after that, and Medaille had to start hacking just to get over the team foul limit and send the Red Dragons to the free throw line.
Laing made the front end of a 1-and-1 with 13.4 seconds left for a 70-65 lead. And after Ferrucci converted a reverse lay-up to get Medaille to within three points, Byrne bottomed out a pair of free throws with 5.6 seconds left to wrap things up.
“It shows how much heart and toughness we have,” said Laing. “It could be your last game, and you have to give it everything.”
Or as Ciccone echoed: “We went out there with all of our hearts. That’s why we’re Cortland.”

 


Cortland’s Sair moves into semis

DUBUQUE, Iowa — SUNY Cortland wrestler Stef Sair is two wins away from a second consecutive NCAA Division III national title.
The stellar senior is also one of three Red Dragons who secured All-America status after the opening day of competition at the Five Flags Center, this two-day tournament being hosted by Luther College.
Sophomore Treavor LeBlanc and junior Phil Archer are also still alive and are guaranteed a top-eight finish — and All-America recognition.
The Red Dragons are currently tied for sixth out of 63 schools in the team standings with 22 points. Augsburg College of Minnesota leads the tournament with 75.5 points.
Sair, the Division III champion at 174 pounds last season, is seeded second at 184 pounds this year. He opened with a 5-3 victory over Nick Coleman of NYU and knocked off Ryan Summers of John Carroll, 6-3.
Sair will face third-seeded Romeo Dioumessi of Wartburg in the semifinals today. He will be an All-American for the third straight season.
LeBlanc, the former Morrisville-Eaton High School standout who is seeded sixth at 174 pounds, won his first match, 5-3, over Robert Larson of the University of Dubuque before losing in the quarterfinals, 7-3, to third-seeded Kyle Vanderhyde of Olivet.
In the consolation bracket, LeBlanc secured his first All-America honor by pinning fifth-seeded Jason Zastrow of Wartburg in 4:02. LeBlanc can finish anywhere between third and eighth place after today’s competition.
Archer faces a similar situation at 197 pounds.
Seeded seventh, he lost his opener, 3-2, to Diego Crespo of Johnson and Wales. After receiving a bye in his opening consolation match, Archer posted a 2-0 decision over eighth-seeded Mike Schmidt of Wisconsin-Whitewater to guarantee a top-eight finish and his first All-America honor.
Cortland’s other three entries were eliminated during the opening day.