By Dean Russin
The Daily Star
---- — Mike Dutcher said a funny thing Thursday night.
“Right from Day One, I’ve always preached to our girls: If Jordan has the ball, work hard and get in front of her and good things will happen,” the third-year Franklin girls basketball coach said.”If you’re open, you will get the ball.”
Of course, that’s only “if” Jordan has the ball, right?
Area scoring leader Beers will lead Franklin (20-0) into a Class D state quarterfinal at 3 p.m. Saturday at Oneonta State, where the Section Four champion Purple Devils will play fellow unbeaten Oriskany (21-0) of Section Three. The game will be the second in a state-quarterfinal triple-header at Dewar Arena — in between a Class C girls showdown between Cooperstown and Harpursville and a Class D boys clash featuring Marathon and New York Mills.
The ball surely will spend much of the Class D quarterfinal in the hands of Beers, who’s coming off a 33-point, 12-rebound performance in last Saturday’s 51-37 victory over Tri-Valley League rival Morris that marked Franklin’s first sectional crown in girls basketball.
“We don’t have a kid up here like her,” said eighth-year Oriskany coach Angela Meiss, whose team beat New York Mills, 40-37, for its second straight sectional title. “She looks like one of those kids that who knows if you can stop her? She just has the passion to play. You can’t teach passion and you can’t teach hustle.”
Junior point guard Beers, who already owns Franklin’s all-time scoring record with 1,884 points, will take an area-best 26.5 points per game into the state quarterfinal. But Beers is far from a one-girl show, and both Dutcher and Meiss know that.
“No team gets this far unless you have quality players,” Dutcher said after the sectional final at O-State, where the Purple Devils also won the Tri-Valley League championship game and a sectional semifinal this season. “Everybody helped. It was great.”
Meiss, who scouted last Saturday’s game at O-State, said she was impressed with the Purple Devils as a whole.
“They are very well-coached, well-disciplined and athletic,” she said. “We know they want it just as much as we do. It’s going to be competitive game.”
One of the key matchups should involve centers Marisa Cawley of Franklin and Oriskany’s Christina Graziadei. A 5-foot-10 junior who averages 13.9 points, Cawley will have to adjust to the rarity of being the second-tallest player on the court. That’s because Graziadei is a 6-1 senior who also holds a program record — with 1,298 varsity points — and she’s coming off a monster game.
“She kind of took the team on her back at the (Carrier) Dome there,” Meiss said of Graziadei, who upped her season scoring average to a team-best 16.5 points after finishing the Section Three final with a varsity-best 31 points. “That’s not normal for us. At different points in the season, we’ve had three or four different high scorers. Christina plays consistently well, but that wasn’t a typical performance. I’m very happy that happened in that game, though.”
Said Dutcher: “We’ve had a chance to see (Graziadei) on tape and she’s a good player. She’s got a couple nice moves around the basket and she can step out and hit the three. I think she’s a player we can defend and Marisa’s a big key.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” he continued. “We kind of have to go back a little bit to how we played the Pochkar girl (Worcester’s Karli Pochkar) in the Tri-Valley League championship last year. She was probably the best girl in the league. Marisa’s going to be fine, as long as she plays straight up and it’s not just her.”
Graziadei also averages a team-best 8.1 rebounds. She and the majority of her teammates are no stranger to this round of postseason play, either. Last season, Oriskany played South Kortright in a Class D state quarterfinal at Herkimer County Community College and lost, 47-38. The Rams held Graziadei to four points en route to their second straight appearance in the state semifinals.
“We have a strong group that came back from last year,” said Meiss, whose team returned six players, including starters Graziadei, Shannon VanShufflin (5.8 points, 6.7 assists per game) and Jordan Sahl (10.5 ppg, 7.6 rpg). Madison Zizzi (7.0 ppg) and Brandi Zizzi (2.5 ppg) round out the starting five. “Those kids have been playing basketball together since fourth grade, so we have experience on our side.”
Franklin will definitely have the home-court advantage, however.
“The nice thing is, this is the fourth time we’ve played at Oneonta State, so it’s kind of like a second home court for us,” said Dutcher, whose starting five includes senior forwards Haley Downin (7.2 ppg) and Kristen Heidenreich (1.4 ppg), along with freshman guard Mariah McNeilly (3.9 ppg). “There’s definitely excitement watching the girls in practice. They’ve got that look in their eyes that this is gravy on top right now, but we can win this game. It’s doable.
“I’m going to be happy if we play Franklin basketball — try to force tempo like we have all season long,” he continued. “We dig deep and put our foot on the gas pedal, especially in the third and fourth quarters. I don’t have any concerns about the kind of effort we’re going to get.”
Dean Russin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-432-1000, ext. 215.