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March 28, 2013

OHS girls way better than my cars

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The Daily Star

---- — I hate cars.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not one of those over-the-top environmentalists who thinks all of us should be riding bikes around town. Not even close.

My problem with cars is I’ve owned far too many over my 44 years on the planet. I bought my first one at 19 and I’ve probably gone through 15 or so since then.

Couple knowing next to nothing about cars with buying beater after beater and one easily can see how I’ve racked up such an impressive number. And why you’ve probably seen at least one of my vehicles on the shoulder of I-88 with a plastic bag sticking out of the window.

A junkyard in Milford is in possession of my latest loser. That 2004 Dodge Stratus submitted its letter of resignation minutes after I filed my story about Oneonta High’s girls basketball team losing in a state semifinal.

With a week off staring me in the face on that March 15 night, I walked to my car in The Daily Star parking lot, turned the key, put it in reverse, started to pull forward and just before I turned onto West Street, its checkered 4-year career ended.

As Bill Murray’s character in “Stripes” said, “And then depression set in.”

But as bad as I felt, it in no way matched the pain Oneonta’s girls displayed following their 55-53 loss to Irvington at Hudson Valley Community College.

They rallied from a 14-point third-quarter deficit against the defending three-time Class B state champions and twice came within a fraction of a whisker of forcing overtime in the final seconds.

Make no mistake, the OHS-Irvington matchup was a semifinal in name only. That became clear when the Bulldogs put a 38-point hurting on Waterloo in the state final the following day. It marked Irvington’s fourth straight state title.

This past Saturday, Irvington won its third Federation state title in four years with a 65-48 victory over Buffalo’s Cardinal O’Hara.

Given those numbers, it’s safe to say the Yellowjackets were the second best Class B team in the state this past season.

Why stop at Class B, though?

During the Yellowjackets’ 20-2 season, they twice faced Class A Troy. Oneonta opened its season with a 45-32 victory over Troy, which also lost, 45-35, to the Yellowjackets on Feb. 4.

Troy won the Class A state title with a 46-30 win over a Maine-Endwell squad that lost, 50-34, to OHS in a Southern Tier Athletic Conference semifinal Feb. 14.

OHS received no plaques commemorating a Class A state championship, but it appears the Yellowjackets would have had a very good chance to win that tournament.

For my money, since the Yellowjackets started their Section Four-record string of six consecutive sectional titles that the 2012-13 version was their best.

I don’t say that lightly. The 2008-09 squad that went 25-1 and lost, 39-35, to Nanuet in the Class B state final possessed plenty of talent, including two Daily Star Player of the Year recipients in Madie Harlem (2009) and Sienna Wisse (2011).

But that team didn’t have anyone the caliber of Mariah Ruff.

What she did this postseason was remarkable, saving her best for last.

In a state quarterfinal against Utica Notre Dame, Ruff had 28 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists to lead the Yellowjackets to a 57-52 victory, outplaying fellow Division I prospect Emily Durr in the process.

Then against an Irvington squad that had D-I recruits Lexi Martins (Lehigh) and Brittni Lai (Marist), Ruff finished with 26 points, seven rebounds and eight assists. To my eye, she was the best player on the court that morning, especially after halftime when she scored 21 points.

After the state semifinal, Ruff impressed me even more. I pulled her aside, knowing at some point I had to ask her about the layup she missed in the closing seconds that would have tied the score. I hated to have to ask it because she played so well.

But before I could get to it, she brought it up, saying she should not have missed the layup.

That’s leadership and that’s classy.

Assuming numerous college scouts attended the state playoff games, Ruff’s D-I stock should have risen considerably during those two games.

The four seniors who joined Ruff in Oneonta’s starting lineup also played key roles. From Natalie Vanderlaan-Meyering’s shot blocking and rebounding to Kelsey Baker’s physical play on both ends of the floor to the shooting exploits and defense of Hayley Dower and Minnie Webster, teams could not focus solely on Ruff.

Senior reserves Sierra Sangetti-Daniels and Maria DiMartin contributed as well, with Sangetti-Daniels providing depth in the front court and DiMartin in the backcourt.

Everyone on the roster played with incredible energy, which is a credit to third-year coach Matt Miller.

The Yellowjackets’ drive nearly resulted in a state title.

As for my driving … well, I just bought another in a long line of lemons. I’ll have to keep that junkyard in Milford on speed dial.

Rob Centorani covers high school basketball for The Daily Star. Email him at rcentorani@thedailystar.com.