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March 9, 2013

State-semifinal berths up for grabs

By Dean Russin
The Daily Star

---- — Call it in the air: Heads Cooperstown; tails Harpursville.

That might be the best way to predict who will win Saturday’s Class C girls basketball state quarterfinal at Oneonta State.

“For Cooperstown to win, they’ll have to find a way to slow Miranda (Drummond). If Harpursville is going to win, they’ll have to play some quality defense on the interior. I think it’s a coin flip.”

Those words came from Unatego coach Greg Bonczkowski after his Spartans fell, 62-36, to Harpursville in the Section Four Class C championship game last Saturday at the Broome County Arena in Binghamton.

Bonczkowski faced both teams this season, going 0-1 against Cooperstown and 2-1 against Harpursville.

“Cooperstown has some good, quality guards,” said Bonczkowski, whose team fell, 37-34, to Cooperstown at home Dec. 10. “Their point guard, Liz Millea is solid. Cooperstown does have some size, too, in the (Nicole) Cring girl and (Alannah) Haggerty, so it should be a good matchup. I think it could go either way.”

Bonczkowski is a bit more familiar with the Hornets (18-3), who fell to the Spartans during the regular season and again in a Midstate Athletic Conference Tournament semifinal before getting blown out in the sectional title game. Although Drummond scored 30 points in their first meeting — a 51-44 Unatego victory in early January — the Spartans limited her to 12 points in a 54-50 MAC semi triumph in February.

“She gets it and she goes. She’s a heck of an athlete,” Cooperstown coach Mike Niles said of Drummond, who scored 27 points in the Section Four final. “Drummond was in the paint a lot (last Saturday). I don’t know what her three-point stuff is like or what her range is like, but I passed her in the hall and she’s pretty big and athletic. We’re not going to try to learn a junk defense before Saturday. Whatever situation comes out, if Miranda’s going to be around the rim, we need to have Alannah and Nic there.”

While Cooperstown surely will key on junior forward Drummond, who’s averaging 23 points this season, it will also have to pay attention to senior point guard Savannah Murray.

“Our mainstays are Miranda and Savannah,” said Harpursville coach Kurt Ehrensbeck, who has received 17 points per game from Murray this season. “Our practices are getting more competitive, though. We’re not leaning on two players anymore, and that makes us a lot more competitive.”

Drummond and Murray helped Harpursville to a state-championship appearance in 2011, so they know what to expect heading into Saturday’s game.

“They just have an idea that whoever we play at whatever level is going to be a top-notch team and there are going to be runs back-and-forth for every game,” Ehrensbeck said. “The kids know what’s going to happen, so they’re not all wide-eyed because it’s their first time here.”

Outside of Niles, Cooperstown is new to this. Niles led Cooperstown to the state semifinals in his first season as head coach in 2008, so all of his current players are newcomers to the state tournament.

“That was such a whirlwind,” Niles said of the 2008 season, when Jen Wehner, Samantha Fox and Cring’s sister Katie were the featured starters. “I showed up and all of a sudden, here we are in Hudson Valley. It’s definitely a different story with this crew, but we’re not here because we got a lot of Facebooks likes. We’ve beaten the teams we had to beat to get here.”

Senior guard Sumer Murdock has a team-best 14.3 points per game for Section Three champion Cooperstown (20-2), which lost to Holland Patent and Sherburne-Earlville during the regular season.

“I think there’s a lot of value to (losing those games),” said Niles, who gets 11.2 points per game from freshman point guard Millea and 11.1 from senior center Cring. “Both of those games were really good experiences. Losing those games takes the edge off now. It would be unbearable if we were 22-0.”

Using that logic, the Class D state quarterfinal should be intense.

Section Four champion Franklin and Section Three winner Oriskany will engage in a battle of unbeatens at 3 p.m. Saturday at O-State, two hours after the Class C state quarterfinal is scheduled to start.

“It doesn’t happen very often for a small school like us,” said Oriskany coach Angela Meiss, whose team is 21-0 and has won two straight sectional titles. “We’re proud of our accomplishments this season. We put aside finishing the regular season 18-0 because we knew we had to go 3-0 to get here. It’s the same thing this week. We’re really both 0-0 and trying to get to the final four.”

Both teams feature big-time scorers in junior point guard Jordan Beers for first-time sectional champion Franklin (20-0) and senior center Christina Graziadei for Oriskany. Beers averages an area-best 26.5 points and Graziadei is at 16.5 points per game. Both players are coming off 30-plus-point performances in their respective sectional finals, too.

But neither team is here solely because of its top scorer.

“We’re all one big team,” said Franklin junior center Marisa Cawley, who averages 13.9 points. “No one person can beat a team. We need each other and everybody realizes it. Jordan gets a lot of credit, but she realizes she can’t win without a team.”

Meiss said Oriskany will need a team effort Saturday to win as well.

“We look to distribute the ball the best we can. A lot of kids get various shots throughout the game,” she said. “We don’t really have a specific set. We’re just looking to come out as strong as we can and will try to meet their tempo.”

Saturday’s state-quarterfinal triple-header at O-State will end with a 5 p.m. Class D boys game between Section Four’s Marathon (10-12) and New York Mills (19-3) of Section Three.

Dean Russin can be reached at drussin@thedailystar.com or 607-432-1000, ext. 215.