By Rob Centorani
The Daily Star
---- — OTEGO _ For a majority of Friday’s matchup of Midstate Athletic Conference girls basketball unbeatens, Unatego kept Unadilla Valley’s running game in check.
But the athletic Storm showed their speed during a nine-point run early in the fourth quarter that carried UV to a 55-52 victory Friday that clinched the MAC regular-season title.
“That’s our game, getting out and running,” said UV coach Brandi Backus, whose team improved to 13-1 and 10-0 in the MAC. “We like to fastbreak. We’re a quick team for our size. We like to push the ball.”
The Storm also received 13 second-half points from senior post player Amanda Off.
“This is huge,” said Off, who finished with 15 points. “My first couple of years (on the varsity team) we were were so bad and we’ve come such a long way. To be unbeaten on the season is awesome. I can’t wait to keep it going.”
That fourth-quarter run also allowed the Storm to overcome a 27-point night from Unatego senior standout Casey Manzanero.
Late in the first half, Manzanero and Sarah Mannina fueled a 9-0 run that turned a five-point deficit into a 26-22 halftime lead.
Manzanero hit a three-pointer from the right wing with 1:40 left in the half and made one from the opposite wing 35 seconds later. Mannina’s three-pointer from the left wing two seconds before halftime gave the Spartans a four-point lead.
It also might have led to a strategy change by Backus.
UV used a 1-3-1 zone throughout the first half but came out in the second half with a triangle-and-2 defense, with the chasers guarding Manzanero and Mannina.
“With Manzanero and Mannina, you have to be right up on them,” Backus said of her defensive change.
The teams played to a 13-all standoff in the third quarter and Unatego (12-3, 9-1) still held a 41-37 lead when Manzanero made a driving layup down the left side of the lane with 6:45 to play.
Then Off started the Storm’s key run with a spin move along the right baseline to make it 41-39 with 5:55 to go.
Taylor Davis hit a free throw with 5:19 left to make it a one-point game. Then Davis, who scored a team-high 18 points, hit a three-pointer in transition to give UV the lead for keeps at 43-41.
Another fastbreak started after the Storm made a steal. Davis missed a layup in transition, but Off grabbed the offensive rebound and was fouled going back up. Off hit 1 of 2 free throws to make it 44-41 with 4:19 remaining.
The spurt ended on yet another fastbreak, this one orchestrated beautifully by point guard Jordan Anderson. The Spartans got back quickly on defense and stopped the initial break, but Anderson found secondary cutter Emily Converse with a bounce pass. Converse drove the left side of the lane for a layup that made it 46-41 with 3:50 to play.
“One of our focuses was to limit their transition opportunities,” Unatego coach Greg Bonczkowski said. “During that spurt, I think they got some long rebounds from some long shots that we took and that allowed them to get some run-outs.”
When Off made two free throws with 1:30 to go, UV’s lead was 49-43. The Storm then made enough free throws down the stretch to clinch the victory.
“A long time,” Backus said when asked the last time UV has had a more meaningful victory. “It’s a great bunch of athletes. It comes in waves.
“One of our goals was to be seeded No. 1 (for the MAC mini-tournament) and have a home game,” she continued.
Late next week, the top-seeded Storm will host No. 4 Bainbridge-Guilford and No. 2 seed Unatego will host third-seeded Harpursville in MAC semifinals.
“If we see them again, that would be great,” Bonczkowski said. “I also think there’s a possibility of meeting them in sectionals. If we meet them again, that means our season has been pretty good, so I’d take that.”
Rob Centorani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-432-1000, ext. 209.