By Greg Klein
The Daily Star
---- — Cooperstown’s highly anticipated softball season can wait, unless practice can find a way to co-exist with the Class C girls basketball state tournament.
“I don’t mind if they overlap,” said Nicole Cring, the pitcher for the softball team and center for the basketball team. “All of the girls who also play softball were talking and we’re fine with it overlapping. We’ll do both. We want to keep this going for two more weeks.”
“This” is the Redskins basketball playoff run, which will continue at 1 p.m. Saturday at Oneonta State with a Class C state quarterfinal against Section Four champion Harpursville. Cooperstown won the Section Three Class C title Feb. 28 at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse by beating Weedsport, 59-44.
Cooperstown (20-2), which went undefeated in Center State Conference Division III play, has won 12 straight since falling, 58-52, to Sherburne-Earlville on Jan. 11. The Redskins’ other loss came against Holland Patent on Dec. 28, 34-31. S-E and HP are Class B schools.
Cooperstown coach Mike Niles has attributed the team’s success to senior co-captains Cring and Sumer Murdock.
“Sumer and Nic, that’s what it is,” he said. “They set the tone. ‘This is where we belong. This is our work ethic.’ The other kids listen to them because they know they are not full of hot air.
“They are leaders on the court and leaders off the court,” he continued. “They are always doing things to bring the team together, like team dinners and team sleepovers.”
According to Murdock, who plays small forward and shooting guard, it is the unity that has helped the team achieve success.
“I think it is the relationships we have created,” Murdock said. “Honestly, I think that is why we have had the success we have had. There’s not anyone on the team who doesn’t like anyone else. Everyone gets along.”
Added Niles: “When I coach junior varsity soccer, I always tell the young kids, ‘You are going to do well because you have talent. But there’s going to be times in the season, or in the playoffs, when you play another team that is just as talented. Whether you win or lose those games will come down to the girls on the bench, and whether they are willing to give more for their teammates than the girls on the other team are willing to give for their teammates.’”
The girls on the bench have helped, but the rest of the starting five have come up big. Senior forward Alannah Haggerty and junior guard Maggie Hall are starters who have had strong seasons.
Along with Cring, they are the stars of the softball team, too. Haggerty holds the program record for highest batting average in a single season, and Hall is the single-season leader for hits, doubles, triples and home runs. Hall also holds the all-time program records in doubles, triples and homers ... and she still has two softball seasons left.
Hall missed all of the 2011-12 basketball season with injuries and Haggerty missed most of it. Their returns have been a big boost to the team, Cring said.
“Alannah, she’s quiet, but she is tough and aggressive,” she said. “Maggie has been a big key for us. She’s a great defender.”
Said Murdock: “Alannah Haggerty, she’s like our secret weapon. She’s been a huge surprise for us.”
Cring and Murdock are also complimentary about each other.
“Sumer has been a great leader,” Cring said. “She’s the best shooting guard around, in my opinion.”
“Nicole, obviously she has been our main player,” Murdock said. “She’s tall and strong and she’s a force inside with rebounds and blocks. I don’t even know how many big blocks she has made for us.”
At just over 6-feet tall, Cring leads the team in blocks and rebounds and is the third leading scorer. She had a season high of 12 blocks Jan. 26 in a conference win at Waterville.
Cring also pitches four to five times a week in preparation for the softball season, which will feature several other members of the basketball team.
Murdock’s not one of them, though. The team’s leading scorer at 14.4 points per game, basketball is Murdock’s only varsity sport this year. She is a “shooter” in basketball parlance, and, she said, she will always keep taking shots.
“You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take,” Murdock said.
Murdock practices her shooting much like Cring practices her pitching, maybe even more. Murdock said she shoots baskets every morning before school at the Clark Sports Center with her father, Todd.
“Even before the season, I was going every morning with my dad to get ready,” she said. “I don’t think I am going to be playing in college, but basketball has been my life. I can’t even explain how important it has been to me and how important it has been to my family.
“I dream basketball,” she continued. “I can’t remember the last time I had a dream that wasn’t about basketball.”
Freshman Liz Millea has been another surprise. Millea took over at point guard at the beginning of the season and has excelled since.
“She’s mature emotionally and she has a great work ethic,” Niles said. “Off the court, she’s a young kid, but on the court, she isn’t. As soon as she goes into the game, you forget she is a freshman.”
Cooperstown last made the state tournament in 2008, Niles’ first year as varsity coach.
“We had such a good team that year,” Niles said. “I don’t know if I took it for granted, but I did think ‘This is great; we’ll be here every year.’
“This year, we wanted to get back to the Dome,” he continued. “But there is a big difference between setting a goal and going out and achieving it. Now that we have, we want to keep going.”
To do that, Cooperstown will have to stop Harpursville (18-3) and its high-scoring combination of Miranda Drummond and Savannah Murray. The Hornets, who won the Section Four title as the tournament’s sixth seed, had lost to Unatego twice before beating the Spartans, 60-36, in the sectional final March 2 in Oneonta. Drummond scored 27 points in the victory.
Most of the Cooperstown girls watched the Section Four final, and then they all met up at Red Bursey Gym for a team sleepover. Whatever happens next, they will face it as a team.
“I always feel a little fatherly to the girls, but I try to let them write their own story,” Niles said. “With Sumer and Nicole, I know I can let them lead. Once the kids step up as leaders, it kind of feeds off itself.”