By Dean Russin
The Daily Star
ONEONTA — Mariah Ruff just wasn't herself Friday at Oneonta High.
Fortunately for the Yellowjackets, their defense was spot on.
Brie Baker had a game-high six steals and Ruff blocked a game-best four shots as the OHS girls basketball team forced 27 turnovers in a 47-30 Section Four Class B Tournament semifinal rout of visiting Susquehanna Valley.
"I thought we played great defense," said Ruff, whose shot was way off most of the night but managed to finish with game-highs of 14 points and 10 rebounds. "That's what we have to do. Defense is really what's going to win us championships if we're going to win any of them."
Ruff missed all seven of her shots in the first half but rattled in a pair of free throws with 2.8 seconds left before the break to give top-seeded Oneonta a 28-15 lead over its Southern Tier Athletic Conference rivals.
The Jackets (17-2) received points from five other sources while Ruff struggled to find her groove, most notably from Brittney Herrick and Meg Burns. Herrick scored Oneonta's first eight points, all from inside the paint, and Burns had all six of her points in the opening quarter, which ended with OHS ahead, 18-9.
"That was really good because Mariah, our leading scorer, was struggling," said OHS coach Matt Miller, who also received four of Maria DiMartin's seven points in the first period. "I was really happy with the way the team responded to her being in a little bit of a rut to start the game off. We got off to a great offensive start and our leading scorer wasn't really a part of the offense in terms of putting the ball in the basket.
"We've had issues with her scoring too much for us and everybody else kind of taking that Robin-type role to her Batman," he continued. "Today, Brittney Herrick asserted herself and she did a good job in the lane."
Herrick opened the scoring in the second quarter, too, hitting another shot from inside the paint while drawing a foul on Tori Diffendorf 46 seconds into the period. She sank the ensuing free throw to cap her 11-point night and put OHS ahead, 21-9.
Ruff took two shots in the second quarter, bricking a three-point attempt early and missing a two-pointer late before breaking her slump with a transition drive in the final seconds of the first half. A foul by SV's Caitlyn Knapp prevented Ruff from making a layup, but the OHS senior who will play for Division I St. Bonaventure next season hit both free throws for her first points.
Ruff missed another three-pointer, on the first shot of the third quarter, but later turned a fumble into a floater through the paint for her first field goal with 5:54 left in the period.
Ruff scored all seven of Oneonta's points in the third quarter, driving off a screen for a layup and sinking a wide-open three from the left wing inside the last minute. Although the third quarter marked Oneonta's only period in single digits, the Jackets actually extended their lead as they held the fourth-seeded Sabers (12-7) to three points.
Ruff's last two baskets came inside the first minute of the final quarter, scoring on a drive and hitting a step-back three to push Oneonta's advantage to 40-18. She missed her final shot, another three about midway through the last period, to finish a 5-for-18 performance from the floor.
"She was grabbing her arm because something's going on with her shooting shoulder," Miller said of Ruff, who went 2-for-9 from three-point range. "I think it's snowmobile-related because she went on a couple outings last week. We had a chiropractor here and he thinks she strained something in her shoulder. It was that way on Wednesday as well. But we have (Saturday) and Sunday off, so hopefully she'll ice it and rest it."
Ruff said extra-curricular activities had nothing to do with her sore shoulder.
"That's what they all think, but that's not what it is," she said after admitting that she did take a few spins on a snowmobile during Oneonta's winter-break week. "During our shootaround today, I was shooting and my shoulder really hurt. So I massaged it, but it hurt to lift it up.
"The girls did a great job knocking down shots," she continued. "Brit had a big first quarter, which helped us a lot. Everybody just played well. They picked me up and that's what a team does."
Ruff said she should be fine for Oneonta's next game, which will be March 1 at the Broome County Arena. That's when the Jackets will play third-seeded Waverly (17-2) of the Interscholastic Athletic Conference or No. 2 Norwich (12-6) of the STAC for the Section Four Class B championship. Norwich will host the other Class B sectional semifinal at 7 p.m. Saturday.
"We just come in to win games and have fun. As long as we're doing that, I think we're doing everything right," said Ruff, whose program won its 19th straight sectional game Friday and will attempt to win its seventh Section Four crown in a row March 1. "It would be cool to get back (to states), but we've got to win the next one first. Then we'll worry about the one after that."
Oneonta 47, SV 30
SECTION FOUR CLASS B
4-SUSQUEHANNA VALLEY (12-7): Rose Green 0 0-2 0, Jordyn Williams 2 0-0 5, Shayna Lee 3 0-0 8, Morgan Finch 1 0-0 2, Maddie Blackman 1 0-2 2, Holly Manchester 0 0-0 0, Caitlyn Knapp 0 1-2 1, Mallory Gregory 0 0-0 0, Caitlin Mizerak 1 0-0 2, Tori Diffendorf 1 0-0 2, Hannah Haskell 0 0-0 0, Paige Finch 1 0-0 2, Erin Nolan 1 0-1 2, Courtney Knapp 2 0-0 4. TOTALS: 13 1-7 30.
1-ONEONTA (17-2): Abby Picinich 1 0-0 2, Kendall Gillette 0 0-0 0, Brieanna Baker 0 0-0 0, Ceili Getman 0 0-0 0, Meg Burns 3 0-2 6, Rachel Wessells 1 1-2 3, Mariah Ruff 5 2-3 14, Brittney Herrick 5 1-2 11, Maria DiMartin 3 1-2 7, Gabby Richardson 1 0-0 2, Madison Miller 1 0-0 2. TOTALS: 20 5-11 47.
SV ..... 9 6 3 12 - 30
Oneonta ..... 18 10 7 12 - 47
Three-point field goals: S 3 (Lee 2, Williams); O 2 (Ruff 2).
Dean Russin can be reached at email@example.com or 607-432-1000, ext. 215.