BY JIM SCHILTZ
SYRACUSE — Employing one look and then another and another, Shenendehowa carved its path back to the state basketball final four with a defensive masterpiece Saturday.
The Plainsmen gave up points begrudgingly early on, and held West Genesee scoreless for nearly six minutes in the fourth quarter to put the finishing touch on a 48-31 Class AA regional title-game win at Onondaga Community College’s Allyn Hall.
“We knew we were going to play man, and mix in some zone,” Shenendehowa coach Joe Murphy said. “When we switched, [assistant] coach [Brian] Rubino said, ‘They’re having trouble picking it up.’ He said, ‘Let’s keep switching.’ ”
Whether Shenendehowa (22-2) was in its man-to-man, a 3-2 zone or a 2-3 zone, West Genesee (21-3) never looked comfortable running its stuff. The Section III champs hit a low point in the second quarter when they managed four points in falling behind 23-11.
“We didn’t see that a lot,” West Genesee sophomore point guard Mackenzie Smith said. “They switched, switched, switched. They’re a good defensive team.”
Junior forward Megan Gillooley played a key role in Shenendehowa’s 11th regional title-game win with her defensive effort against Smith, 13 points, nine rebounds and two steals, both of those coming in the shutdown fourth quarter.
“She was pressing me more than girls in other games,” said Smith, who managed six points. “I didn’t really notice what she was doing on offense, just on defense. It was frustrating.”
Smith sank a 3-pointer to begin the fourth quarter, and Camryn Chawgo’s layup soon after pulled the Wildcats within 35-28 with 6:42 left. The Wildcats didn’t score again until Elle Lazore dropped in a 3 with 45 seconds to go, ending heir drought and a 9-0 run by the Plainsmen.
“To hold a team to 11 points in the first half and 31 overall in a regional game, give credit to the team,” Murphy said. “We played great defense.”
Shenendehowa set the tone in the first half when it surrendered five field goals. In all, West Genesee shot 5-for-23 in the opening half.
“During games, if it’s not working, we’ll switch,” Shenendehowa junior Cam Tooley said. “It was working, and we still kept at it. We switched it up to throw them off. Our energy and attention to detail was excellent. We knew what we wanted to do.”
Tooley nailed back-to-back 3-point baskets in the first quarter to erase a 4-2 deficit, and Shenendehowa never relinquished the lead. The Plainsmen were up by as many as 15 points twice in the third frame at 32-17 on a putback basket by Gillooley and at 35-20 on a 3 by Tooley.
“We knew we wanted to come down here and do a good job,” Tooley said.
Tooley paced Shenendehowa with 20 points and Alex Tudor, the only other holdover from last season’s state runner-up team, delivered 11 points. Claire Drum snared nine rebounds, and 6-foot-4 Catherine Almeida blocked two shots and grabbed three boards when the state’s No. 9 team was building its first-half lead.
“We always focus on defense,” Gillooley said. “Defense wins games.”
Shenendehowa will meet the Long Island champion (Baldwin or Central Islip) Friday at 6:15 p.m. in a state semifinal game at Hudson Valley Community College. Shenendehowa graduated eight seniors, including all-state first-teamer Carly Boland, from last season’s team that beat Williamsville North (68-25) and then lost to Ossining (69-66) in the final four.
“From the beginning of the season, we’ve been the underdog, the dark horse,” said Tooley, who scored nine fourth-quarter points, going 7-for-9 from the line. “Everyone left. We’ve lived by five words, most importantly teamwork, resilience and trust.”
Lazore and Madison Smith scored nine points apiece for West Genesee, which came in with a No. 10 state rank. West Genesee beat Liverpool (52-43) last weekend at OCC’s Allyn Hall for its first Section III championship since 1994.
“We saw a couple of films and had a good idea of what they wanted to do,” Murphy said. “When we were preparing, the kids on my bench did a great job of running their plays. We wouldn’t be where we are now without every kid on the team.”
Chawgo 2-0-4, Walker 0-1-1, Mac. Smith 2-0-6, Collins 1-0-2, Lazore 3-0-9, Mad. Smith 3-2-9. Totals: 11-3-31.
Gillooley 5-2-13, Tooley 5-7-20, Drum 1-0-2, Walker 1-0-2, Tudor 5-0-11. Totals: 17-9-48.
West Genesee 7 4 12 8 — 31
Shenendehowa 12 11 12 13 — 48
Three-point goals: Mac. Smith 2, Lazore 3, Mad. Smith, Gillooley, Tooley 3, Tudor.