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March 10, 2014

Oneonta's rally falls short

By Rob Centorani Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — VESTAL — The Mariah Ruff era at Oneonta High — at least as it pertains to varsity athletics — ended Saturday afternoon at Binghamton University’s Events Center.

“At moments, it seems like it went by so quickly,” Ruff said. “It’s been a great four years.”

Though it ended in defeat, it was so much about what Ruff’s 4-year tenure stood for. She led a Yellowjackets squad that scraped, clawed, fought and found a way to give itself a chance, even when it appeared the window to victory was latched shut and the door to the state semifinals was double-bolted.

Half of her game-high 22 points came in the final quarter as OHS rallied from a 14-point deficit. Her transition layup with 58 seconds left tied the score at 44, but Utica Notre Dame closed on a 6-0 run to win the Class B state quarterfinal, 50-44.

“She’s a play-maker for us when we need her on defense and she’s a play-maker when we need her on offense,” Oneonta High coach Matt Miller said of Ruff, who’ll play basketball next season for Division I St. Bonaventure. “She’s got an energy and a determination about her that’s infectious. The kids have always followed her lead. Even as a freshman, she had spurts like that. Kids just rally around her and we’re definitely going to miss that, among many other things.”

The Jugglers’ victory avenged a 57-52 loss to the Yellowjackets in a state quarterfinal last season, when Ruff had 28 points.

Of course, Utica ND had its own version of Ruff in Emily Durr, an Iowa State recruit with a 5-foot-11 frame that just screams, “basketball player!”. Durr scored a team-high 19 points and delivered three key assists during a huge third-quarter run that helped the Jugglers turn a one-point halftime deficit into a 37-25 lead.

“She obviously draws a lot of attention,” Miller said of Durr, whose passes set up two three-pointers by Anari Harris and one from Jaclyn Hajec as UND outscored the Yellowjackets, 16-3, during the third quarter. “We have 10 eyes on her defensively the entire time, we help like crazy. She’s almost 6 feet tall and has great court vision. With that much attention on her, you can lose track of the other kids and she’s good about penetrating and making other people help. She passes over the top of us and she can hurt you in a lot of different ways. She’s their Mariah Ruff.”

When eighth-grader Claire Sehring hit a layup off a feed from Durr 25 seconds into the fourth quarter, Oneonta’s deficit was 39-25.

Game over, or so it seemed.

Now, OHS has made several memorable comebacks during Ruff’s time in win-or-go-home situations. As a freshman, she helped lead the Yellowjackets back from a 17-point, second-quarter deficit against Cazenovia, a Class B state quarterfinal OHS lost, 62-58, in overtime. Oneonta rallied from 14 down in the third quarter against state power Irvington last season before falling, 55-53, in a state semifinal against a squad that went on to win its fourth straight state title.

Even last week, as OHS won its seventh straight sectional title, the Yellowjackets faced a 10-point, third-quarter deficit against Norwich before rallying for a 51-44 victory.

But a 14-point deficit with under seven minutes left seemed too tall, even for this program.

“You never want your season to end and we saw it ending right before us,” said OHS senior center Brittney Herrick, who finished with 11 points. “We knew we had to come back and do everything we could. I’m so proud of everyone because we did such a good job.”

Like last week against Norwich, Oneonta’s rally was kick-started by switching to a man-to-man defense. Miller made the move during a timeout with 1:24 left in the third quarter, but it didn’t start paying dividends until early in the fourth quarter.

Ruff hit the last of her four three-pointers with 6:46 left and then hit a pull-up jumper in the lane 20 seconds later as OHS pulled to 39-30.

Yellowjackets junior Madison Miller then spurred a 10-2 run over a two-minute span.

Miller, an athletic 5-9 forward, hit a short runner midway through the quarter and then a made a steal near midcourt and passed ahead to Ruff, whose layup made with 41-34 with 3:45 to go.

“I was immensely impressed,” Ruff said of Miller, who finished with six points on 3-for-4 shooting from the field. “She picked her game. She had four fouls, but she got steals and created for others. She gave the seniors as much as she could to help us succeed.” 

After Harris scored in transition, Maria DiMartin found Herrick inside for a layup, Ruff hit a pair of free throws and Miller drove the right side of the lane, hitting an 8-footer off the glass that pulled OHS to 43-40 with 2:03 left.

“Anyone who follows Oneonta High athletics knows Madison is an exceptional athlete,” coach Miller said of Madison Miller, a standout soccer player who helped the Yellowjackets to a Class B state title in the fall. “She’s got tools that can make her a great basketball player and you saw glimpses of that. These are things we’ve seen as teammates and as her coach the entire year in practice.”

After Sehring hit a free throw with 1:45 left, OHS closed to two points on a 16-foot jumper from the left wing by Brieanna Baker with 1:10 left. Ruff then forced a steal at midcourt and went in for a tying layup with 58 seconds left.

“I thought we had a run in us,” Ruff said. “Our team has a lot of heart. We’ll push ourselves to the end. I was like, ‘Let’s go girls.’ I thought we picked it up and we tied the score. I’m really proud of us.”

Alexia Patterson, who harassed Ruff for most of the second half in UND’s triangle-and-2 defense, went 1-for-2 from the line with 50.7 seconds, giving the Jugglers a 45-44 lead.

That set up a sequence that best describes Ruff’s competitive nature.

It started when Ruff thew a cross-court pass that Harris intercepted. Harris then raced down the floor, but Ruff followed closely. Ruff then timed her jump perfectly and blocked Harris’ layup attempt. Ruff secured the deflection and was fouled by Harris.

Ruff went to the line for a 1-and-1 with 39.8 seconds and a chance to give the Yellowjackets the lead. But her free throw went off the right iron and OHS fouled Durr with 37.6 seconds left. Durr hit both shots for a 47-44 lead.

Oneonta’s next possession ended when Herrick was called for traveling.

Durr went back to the line with 22.9 seconds left and made 1 of 2 for a four-point lead.

Ruff’s deep three-point attempt with 15 seconds left fell way short and Durr’s free throw with 13.7 seconds to go all but ended it.

“We know Oneonta is a great team and we knew they were going to fight back,” said Durr, who had a long embrace with Ruff as the teams shook hands following the game. “With a player like Mariah Ruff, you knew they were going to make a run. She had a tremendous game. We were teammates in AAU and I wish her the best of luck. She’s the best player I’ve played against.”

But the Jugglers made Ruff work for her points, with Patterson and Harris taking turns guarding her. She shot 8-for-26 from the field.

“We tried to make her uncomfortable,” UND coach Mike Plonisch said of Ruff, who finished with 1,932 varsity points. “When she’s comfortable on the floor, she’s one of the most dangerous kids I’ve ever seen play. She can handle the ball well, she can shoot and drive, but nothing was easy for her.”

UND (20-3) will play Tamarac of Section Two in a state semifinal at 11:45 a.m. Friday at Hudson Valley Community College.

Utica ND 50, Oneonta 44

CLASS B STATE QUARTERFINAL

Saturday at Binghamton University

Number before team indicates section

3-UTICA NOTRE DAME (20-3): Alexia Patterson 2-4 1-2 5, Anari Harris 4-14 1-4 11, Claire Sehring 4-9 1-2 9, Emily Durr 4-15 10-14 19, Katie Buschmann 0-2 1-2 1, Kate Sehring 0-1 0-0 0, Jaclyn Hajec 2-8 0-2 5. TOTALS: 16-54 14-26 50.

4-ONEONTA (18-3): Abby Picinich 0-0 0-0 0, Kendall Gillette 0-0 0-0 0, Brieanna Baker 1-7 0-0 2, Ceili Getman 0-0 0-0 0, Meg Burns 1-2 1-2 3, Rachel Wessells 0-0 0-0 0, Mariah Ruff 8-26 2-3 22, Brittney Herrick 3-7 5-8 11, Maria DiMartin 0-9 0-0 0, Gabby Richardson 0-0 0-0 0, Madison Miller 3-4 0-0 6. TOTALS: 16-55 8-13 44.

Utica Notre Dame 9 12 16 13 - 50

Oneonta 11 11 3 19 - 44

Three-point field goals: U 4 (Harris 2, Durr, Hajec); O 4 (Ruff 4).

Rob Centorani can be reached at rcentorani@thedailystar.com or 607-432-1000, ext. 209.