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March 10, 2010

 

Purple Tigers’ surge falls short

Top-ranked Warriors hold off CHS

BasketballBob Ellis/staff photographer
Nacirema Mann (2) of Cortland High splits Averill Park defenders Molly Streb and Michela Ottati (3). Looking on is Cortland’s Courtney Tennant (14) and Aubrey VanGorder (5) during Tuesday’s Class A state tournament game. CHS fell short, 59-54.

By TANEY BEAUMONT
Staff writer

CICERO — It was a case of too little, too late for the Cortland High girls’ basketball team Tuesday night in its Class A state regional contest with Section 2’s Averill Park.
The new-crowned Section 3 ‘A’ champions trailed the state’s top-ranked team 51-41 with just over three minutes left in the game at Cicero-North Syracuse and staged a furious rally to get within two, 54-52, with 35 seconds left.
The Warriors, however, hung tough down the stretch and came away with a 59-54 win and a spot in Friday’s 6 p.m. state quarterfinal against Section 10 champion Malone Franklin Academy (20-1) at SUNY Potsdam.
“The kids ran the court and rebounded (down the stretch). It was what we needed to do the whole game, but didn’t until the second half,” Purple Tigers coach Dick Penoyer said shortly after his team had completed its season at 17-4. “We weren’t ready for their man-to-man pressure. We hadn’t seen that much during the season, and that’s what did us in. We had 22 turnovers, which is too many against a good team.
“And Averill Park is a good team,” he added. “The girls played hard and had a great season. They’ve got nothing to be ashamed of. If we’d done things differently sooner and hadn’t missed some easy baskets at the end of the game, there might have been a different outcome.”
In addition to harassing CHS all-game long with its ferocious man-to-man defense, Averill Park (21-1) also hit from beyond the 3-point arc with regularity, sinking nine treys in the contest. Five of those came from senior guard Lauren Nunziato, who finished with a game-high 19 points.
“We knew they shot a lot of 3-pointers,” Penoyer said, he and his staff having scouted the Warriors last week. “Number four (Nunziato) killed us. They kept setting a downscreen, and we didn’t pick her up all night long, didn’t contest her. We just couldn’t stop them tonight. In every game we’ve lost, 3-pointers have been what’s beaten us. But despite all that, we fought back and almost got them.”
After a fan congratulated Averill Park coach Sean Organ and praised his team, he responded by saying: “The team we just beat is an excellent team. That was one of our toughest games all season. We lost by one to Colonie (53-62) four games ago; we didn’t hit free throws and 3-pointers like we did tonight.
“Lauren has hit game-changers all season long and emerged as one of our reliable players, one of our go-tos. The seniors realize the end of the season, and their high school careers, could be around the corner at any time and are playing with a sense of purpose and desperation. I couldn’t ask any more of them,” he added.
IT DIDN’T LOOK like the Warriors would have any trouble heading back east with the win as they forged their 51-41 lead on Nunziato’s last 3-pointer of the night with 3:28 left. Cortland senior forward Courtney Tennant, who finished with 13 points, answered from inside with 3:09 left, and when junior forward Nacirema Mann stole a pass at half-court and drove in for a layup with 2:58 left it was suddenly 51-45.
CHS regained possession after Averill Park missed two shots, and after a timeout by Penoyer, Mann put home a rebound to make it 51-47.
The winners’ top scorer on the season, Katie Duma, who came in averaging 16.8 points a game but was held to 13 Tuesday, scored inside with 1:31 left to make it 53-47, but 20 seconds later Purple Tigers senior forward Maggie Reagan, who finished with a team-high 15 points, buried one of her two 3-pointers on the night to make it 53-50. Duma was fouled and made one of two free throws, giving her team a 54-50 lead with 52.7 seconds left, before Mann dished underneath to Reagan for a layup that pulled Cortland two within two, 54-52, with 35 seconds left.
Then came the play of the game, as Warriors sophomore forward Brooke O’Shea drove the lane, hit a shot over two defenders and was fouled on the play with 16 seconds left, then hit the free throw to make it 57-52. Mann scored off another rebound to make it 57-54 with eight seconds left, and after a CHS timeout the Purple Tigers looked to have chance at steal on the inbounds play, only to have sophomore guard Maggie Brown pick up her fifth foul on some mutual bumping.
Duma was then fouled on the ensuing inbounds play and hit a pair of free throws to close out the scoring, senior guard Brittany O’Shea (Brooke’s sister) with a mid-court steal to seal the verdict.
“Brooke is pretty quick with her drive, found a little opening up top and was able to finish,” Organ said of the game-clincher. “It was a play that broke down, but she found an opening and used it.”
“I found the opening, went strong and got fouled,” said O’Shea, who finished with 10 points. “Cortland is a great team. They’re tough, and played well. We played together as a team and were tough on defense.”
“IF WE’D MADE a defensive stop there, down by just two, we had a chance to win,” Penoyer said.
“I think that when we were down by 10 the last time their coach thought we were going to go away, and that if we’d had another two or three minutes we would have won. I think we wore them down. They weren’t going to let Courtney or Maggie (Brown) score, so someone else needed to step up and Maggie Reagan had a good game shooting. In the second half she played big.”
Reagan scored 10 of her 15 points after intermission.
“They let teams play more physically in states, which we weren’t used to in the regular season. There was a lot of pushing and shoving all night. I had no problem with the call (against Brown),” added Penoyer.
Despite her hot hand and taking game scoring honors, Nunziato was hesitant to talk about herself after the game. “I think everyone stepped up; it was a team effort,” she said. “We pulled together. We knew we had to play strong defense and stay focused through the ups and downs.”
Brown finished with 12 points and Mann had eight for Cortland. Tennant pulled down 11 rebounds and Brown had 10 (to go with five steals and four assists) as CHS collected 30 boards in all, most of those in the second half. Mann had three steals and, along with senior guard Aubrey VanGorder, three assists. Averill Park’s individual statistics, other than scoring, weren’t available.
Reagan scored all five of her first-half points early, her 3-pointer with 4:22 left in the opening stanza giving Cortland its biggest lead of the game at 7-3. The Warriors came back to take a 13-10 lead after the opening quarter, and went on an 8-2 run to close out the first half and take a a 32-22 lead into intermission. Averill Park led by 11, 47-36, after the third quarter.
“WE GOT BACK in it by playing together,” said Tennant, who was also credited with three blocked shots. “We didn’t want the season to end. They hit some shots at the end and we didn’t, which was big. But everyone did so well, and I’m so proud. We won a sectional title and would have liked to have gotten farther, but this is something I’ll tell my kids about in the future. It was great.”
“It was a great season, and the girls should be proud of what they accomplished,” Penoyer said. “When we started the season, no one expected them to be where they were at the end, except for themselves.”
The contest marked the end of the high school basketball careers of Tennant (who finished with 869 points in four years), Reagan, VanGorder, forward Christine Gutchess (sidelined the final 13 games with a knee injury) and guards Morgan VanGorder (Aubrey’s cousin) and Rheanna Bates.