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February 19, 2013

Seniors lead Storm to first MAC title

By Rob Centorani
The Daily Star

---- — ONEONTA — Jordan Anderson and Amanda Off left their fingerprints all over Saturday’s Midstate Athletic Conference girls basketball final.

Jenn Elliott’s contributions for Unadilla Valley were less conspicuous.

But all three seniors helped the Storm to their first league championship as UV beat rival Unatego, 44-34, before a large turnout at Oneonta State’s Dewar Arena.

“It’s a piece of history and I’m glad to be part of it,” point guard Anderson said after scoring a game-high 17 points.

Anderson led UV’s up-tempo offense superbly, Off powered her way to 13 points and Elliott spent the majority of her afternoon chasing Unatego standout Casey Manzanero around the gym.

Manzanero became the fourth Unatego player to score 1,000 varsity points, but thanks in large part to Elliott’s defense, Manzanero was limited to eight points.

It’s not that Manzanero and backcourt mate Sarah Mannina shot poorly but that the Unatego seniors didn’t shoot much at all. With Elliott chasing Manzanero and Taylor Davis following Mannina in the Storm’s triangle-and-2 defense, the Storm kept the ball away from the Spartans’ top offensive threats.

“I’m surprised how many looks they didn’t get,” UV coach Brandi Backus said of Manzanero and Mannina. “They’re the ones who were going to carry the team, so we knew if we got hung up on a screen, we had to get out on them. They’re the ones who will burn you. Our plan tonight was to make the other girls beat us.”

Offensively, UV (15-1) struggled for most of the afternoon to get its fastbreak going, but one surge during the first half played a big role in the victory.

After falling behind, 10-2, the Storm went on a 16-1 run to take lead for keeps.

“You’re not going to hold a team of their caliber down the whole game,” said Unatego coach Greg Bonczkowski, whose fifth-seeded team will take a 14-4 record into its Section Four Class C first-round home game against No. 12 Moravia on Tuesday. “All they need is a long rebound or a turnover on our part and it’s off to the races.”

The catalyst for UV’s running game was Anderson, a speedy guard who always plays with her head up and has a soft pull-up jumper to boot.

She scored or assisted on six of the Storm’s eight first-half baskets.

Her three-pointer from the left wing a minute into the second quarter cut UV’s deficit to 10-9.

A minute later, Davis hit a 15-foot pull-up jumper to make it 11-10, a lead the Storm would maintain the rest of the way.

Anderson then scored in transition and was fouled by Mannina. Her free throw made it 14-11 with 5:42 left in the quarter. Twenty-two seconds later, Anderson was fouled while attempting a fastbreak layup and she hit both free throws.

“Our team has a lot of weapons,” Anderson said. “We were able to get out and run the floor and that’s what we do best. Our coach told us to push the ball and that’s what we did.”

After a Mannina free throw stopped the run, Anderson found Off, who hit a baseline jumper to make it 18-11.

When Off scored on a putback 2:41 before halftime, UV led, 19-11.

But Unatego closed the half on a 7-2 run.

Robin Foster hit an 8-footer from the right block and Mannina turned a steal into a layup.

After Anderson hit a driving layup, Manzanero scored her milestone basket. She hit a three off the dribble from right of the circle for her fifth point of the day and her 1,000th over four varsity seasons.

“It’s also a tribute to all the girls who set screens for her and a lot of those assists on those baskets came from Sarah Mannina,” Bonczkowski said of Manzanero, who joined Lynn Jackson, Erika Puffer and Colleen O’Hara as 1,000-point scorers for the Spartans. “They’ve been playing together on varsity for four years. It’s an individual accomplishment, but it’s also something the team can be proud of.”

That basket cut the Spartans’ deficit to 22-18 heading into the third quarter.

Elliott scored all five of her points in the first 1:27 of the third quarter. She hit a long two-pointer and then hit a three-pointer from the baseline, that basket making the score, 27-18, with 6:33 left in the third quarter.

But Unatego stayed close.

When Cassidy Newman scored inside with 1:40 left in the quarter, the Spartans trailed, 31-26.

Marissa Woodard’s putback 20 seconds into the final quarter made it a three-point spread.

UV responded with four straight points. Corrine Izard, who suffered a left ankle injury with 6:11 left and did not return, hit two free throws with 6:34 left and Off scored inside with 4:52 to play to make it 35-28.

Manzanero, who scored 26 points in Unatego’s 55-52 regular season loss to UV, hit a free throw with 4:35 to play and Kayla Talbot swished a 12-footer with 3 ½ minutes remaining as Unatego closed to 35-31.

But Manzanero fouled out with 3:13 left.

That started a 4-0 Storm run that all but ended things. Off hit 1 of 2 free throws after Manzanero’s fifth foul, Anderson did likewise with 2:28 left and Anderson ended the run on a pull-up jumper with 2:14 to play.

“It’s huge for the program,” Backus said of winning the UV’s first MAC title in girls basketball. “These girls have been hard-core basketball for the last three to four seasons, so it’s nice to see them get rewarded. It kind of sets a standard for the younger girls.”

The third-seeded Storm will take a 14-game winning streak into a Section Four Class C quarterfinal against sixth-seeded Harpursville or No. 11 Watkins Glen on Friday.

“It’s going to bring us a lot of confidence,” Anderson said of Saturday’s win. “Key players stepped up today and they know they can do that in the future.”

Rob Centorani can be reached at rcentorani@thedailystar.com or 607-432-1000, ext. 209.