By Rob Centorani
The Daily Star
---- — ONEONTA _ From a team standpoint, Oneonta High’s defenders dominated Friday night, specifically in the second half.Facing a Waverly squad that hadn’t experienced defeat in 19 outings this season, OHS’ press and its 3-2 zone held the Wolverines to 12 points after halftime before a packed crowd at Drago Gymnasium.
Individually, well … let’s just say Mariah was being Mariah.
Junior guard Mariah Ruff scored 28 points as the top-seeded Yellowjackets advanced to their sixth straight sectional final with a 60-30 romp over No. 4 Waverly in a Section Four Class B semifinal.
“They’re a great team,” said Ruff, who also had eight steals, six rebounds and four assists. “They were undefeated, besides tonight. I’m proud that we played defense and turned that defense into offense.”
Next for the Yellowjackets (18-1) will be a third meeting against Southern Tier Athletic Conference rival Seton Catholic Central in the Section Four Class B final at 5 p.m. March 2 at the Broome County Arena. The second-seeded Saints defeated Norwich, 48-36, in Friday’s other semifinal.
During the regular season, Oneonta defeated SCC, 56-29, on Jan. 9.
“We’ve beaten two incredible teams in a row _ tonight convincingly so,” said OHS coach Matt Miller, also referencing the Yellowjackets’ 58-57 win over Horseheads in the STAC championship game Sunday at Binghamton University’s Events Center. “Certainly, they deserve to have confidence in themselves (heading into the sectional final). But it’s also healthy to have some fear. Confidence is great, but you don’t want to be cocky.”
OHS set a Section Four girls basketball record last season by winning its fifth straight sectional title _ a streak that started with a 35-27 title-game win over Waverly in the 2008 Class A final.
“I’m proud to be a part of it,” said Ruff, who joined Oneonta’s varsity team as a freshman. “Last year, people said we couldn’t win, we couldn’t win, and we did it. This year, we’re expected to win, but we just need to keep fighting. You have to play every game like it’s your last. I just feel like the seniors are pushing everybody forward.”
Friday’s game took a turn in Oneonta’s favor late in the first half.
Jenna Bowman banked in a three-pointer from the right wing to cut Waverly’s deficit to 20-18 with 1:20 left in the first half.
“I’m thinking we might pull ahead here and then they score six straight points to end the half,” said Waverly coach Brian Miller, whose team wouldn’t hit another field goal until 1:51 remained in the third quarter.
Fifteen seconds later, Ruff hit a three from the key off the dribble to make it a five-point spread. Then on OHS’ next possession, Ruff penetrated before kicking out to Minnie Webster for a three-pointer as OHS took a 26-18 lead into halftime.
Oneonta went on to score the first six points of the third quarter.
Webster made a deflection on OHS’ press and Ruff raced to the loose ball and hit a layup as she was fouled 25 seconds into the second half. Ruff’s free throw made it 29-18.
On the next Yellowjackets’ possession, the ball went into Natalie Vanderlaan-Meyering in the post. When several defenders converged on the 6-foot-2 center, she kicked it out to Hayley Dower, who swished a three from the top of the key to make it 32-18.
Following a free throw by Sabrina Bowman, OHS scored five straight points completing a 17-1 spurt that bridged the second and third quarters.
First, Ruff hit a free throw, then Maria DiMartin scored in transition off a pass from Dower and Ruff capped the run with a hustle play. Off a deflection, it appeared a Waverly player had an angle to get the ball near mid-court, but Ruff popped it free and went it for an uncontested layup. It gave the Yellowjackets a 37-19 lead midway through the third quarter.
Meanwhile, Waverly shooters couldn’t hit anything. They threw up deep three after deep three with almost no success against Oneonta’s active 3-2 zone.
“At halftime, (OHS coach) Miller said we have to adjust and get out to their shooters,” Ruff said of a Waverly squad that all four of its three-pointers in the first half. “Natalie (Vanderlaan-Meyering) went out to the corner, which is a hard (contest) for her and everybody did a great job talking and getting out to shooters.”
Waverly (19-1), which won the Interscholastic Athletic Conference Large-School championship, pulled to 40-27 when Reylyn Schwartzhoff scored inside off a pass from Sabrina Bowman 30 seconds into the fourth quarter.
Sixteen seconds later, Kylie Newman was fouled by Ruff after stealing the ball near midcourt. But Newman missed both free throws and the Yellowjackets scored the next 13 points _ nine coming from Ruff.
She hit a driving layup and turned a deflection into a transition layup. Then Ruff hit a pull-up jumper in the lane before saving her best for last.
Starting on the left side of the court, Ruff made a strong drive down the right side of the lane. She then got great lift as she went up, drew contact and hit the layup. Her free throw made it 53-27 with 3:53 to play.
“Mariah Ruff is a great player,” Waverly coach Miller said. “I’ve been doing this for 16 years and she’s one of the top players I’ve coached against, and I’ve seen some very good players.”
Added Oneonta High coach Miller: “It’s obvious as far as ability and talent that she’s separated herself from anybody in this area. But then you look at her competitive spirit and drive, and it’s another way she’s separated herself. Skill-wise, she’s ahead of the competition and the way she competes, she just wants it more than the other players.”
Vanderlaan-Meyering finished with nine points, 12 rebounds and four blocks, and Kelsey Baker contributed five points and eight rebounds for the Yellowjackets, whose lone loss this season came against Class AA standout Penfield.
“I like our chances (in the sectional final), but again, it’s basketball,” said Ruff, who had 21 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists in OHS’ win over Horseheads on Sunday. “Anything can happen. You have to go into every game like you’re an equal or even that (the opponent) is better.”
Rob Centorani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-432-1000, ext. 209.