By Rob Centorani
The Daily Star
---- — SYRACUSE _ Two themes emerged over the final five-plus minutes of Saturday’s Class B girls basketball state quarterfinal in the SRC Arena at Onondaga Community College:
• Oneonta High’s Mariah Ruff is really good;
• The Yellowjackets’ defense might have been even better.
Ruff capped off a scintillating 28-point, 10-rebound, eight-assist afternoon by scoring the game’s final seven points, including a go-ahead three-pointer with 1:35 left. OHS’ defense permitted zilch to Section Three’s Utica Notre Dame over the final 5:05 en route to a 57-52 victory.
Now the Yellowjackets (20-1) will head to the state semifinals for the third time in five years. They’ll play three-time defending state champion Irvington at 10 a.m. Friday in a Class B semifinal at Hudson Valley CC in Troy.
Oneonta’s last visit to HVCC ended with a 54-33 loss to Irvington in the 2010 Class B state championship game. Section One’s Irvington (20-2) advanced with a 62-41 win over Section 11’s Southampton on Friday.
Irvington and OHS are ranked 1-2 in the state, respectively, but none of the Yellowjackets seemed interested in thinking ahead after Saturday’s victory.
“After losing it two times in a row, we finally won one,” Ruff said of state quarterfinal losses to Cazenovia and South Jefferson the past two years. “It was a great win.”
Added third-year OHS coach Matt Miller: “They were a quality team and obviously Emily Durr is as good as anyone we’ve seen all season long, but I think these seniors felt a sense of urgency and they knew there were no do-overs. We just gutted it out. The last three minutes of that game, we were in the right spots, we took good shots and our defense was great.”
Perhaps it was fitting that as the final seconds ticked off, the teams respective No. 22s _ Ruff and Durr _ embraced each other for a few seconds. They were AAU travel teammates over the summer on the elite Albany City Rocks and took this game to a level normally not seen at the Class B level.
Durr, like Ruff a junior, finished with 23 points. Her game was reminiscent of former Harpursville standout Hannah Kimmel, Section Four’s all-time scoring leader and currently on the roster of Division I Sacred Heart.
At 5-foot-11 Durr had size, she could shoot it from distance, had a pull-up game and possessed the athleticism to grab a defensive rebound at one end, dribble the length of the court and finish at the other.
“(Durr) had a great game,” said Ruff, who scored all of her points over the final three quarters.
As for Ruff, to say she was completely involved in every part of Oneonta’s offense would be an exaggeration. Truth be told, she scored or assisted on 17 of the Yellowjackets’ 20 baskets. She shot 9-for-16 from the floor and 5 of 6 from the free throw line.
During a back-and-forth second quarter, Ruff scored 14 points, hitting three three-pointers _ the last seconds before the halftime buzzer that tied the score at 32 _ making a pull-up jumper in transition, scoring on a putback and zipping a cross-court pass that freed Minnie Webster along the right wing for a three-pointer. Ruff made five of her six shots in the second quarter.
Aside from first-quarter putbacks by Kelsey Baker and Natalie Vanderlaan-Meyering, and a steal and layup by Maria DiMartin in the third quarter, Ruff orchestrated everything for the Yellowjackets.
Maybe the most impressive aspect was that Ruff’s production came despite the Jugglers’ Jordan Morgan applying constant pressure all over the court asRuff rarely had time to take a breather.
“It was one of those things where I was looking at her at the end of the game and she was just exhausted,” Miller said of Ruff. “She begged me for a timeout at one point and she never does that.
“I was prepared to win or lose with the ball in her hands and she did a great job,” he continued.
Vanderlaan-Meyering scored eight of her 11 points in the third quarter, all off of Ruff assists.
“In the first two quarters, they doing a great job on Nat,” Ruff said of the 6-2 Vanderlaan-Meyering. “In the third, that’s when she made like three or four layups in a row and that opened up the outside game more.”
A 6-0 Yellowjackets run at the end of the third quarter gave OHS a 49-43 lead.
Ruff put back a Vanderlaan-Meyering miss, Vanderlaan-Meyering scored inside and DiMartin turned a steal at the top of Oneonta’s 3-2 zone into a layup. DiMartin’s basket made it a six-point spread with 1:37 left in the quarter.
Then the Jugglers went on a 9-1 run that started with a putback by Maggie Sehring with 50 seconds left in the third quarter.
When Anari Harris made the last of Utica Notre Dame’s six three-pointers with 6:35 left, Oneonta’s lead was 50-48.
Durr then tied the score on two free throws with 6:16 left.
A minute later, Durr showed why schools from the Big East and Atlantic Coast conferences are interested in her services.
She grabbed a defensive rebound after Vanderlaan-Meyering missed a free throw and then went to coast-to-coast and finished with a short pull-up jumper to give UND its first lead since late in the second quarter. It made the score, 52-50, with 5:05 to play.
But Durr followed with what was arguably her only poor stretch of the game. Perhaps sensing that a three-pointer might send OHS into panic mode, Durr threw up deep three-point attempts early in the shot clock on the Jugglers’ next three possessions and missed all of them.
Ruff then tied the score at 52 with 3½ minutes left, getting a friendly roll on a 10-foot leaner in the lane.
Oneonta took the lead for keeps with 1:35 to play. Baker tried a contested a 10-footer from the left side that was too strong, but Vanderlaan-Meyering grabbed a rebound over a UND player. She then kicked a pass out to an uncovered Ruff at the top of the key. Ruff hit the last of her five three-pointers to make it 55-52.
“I had total confidence she would make that because I looked around and there were no defenders in sight,” said Vanderlaan-Meyering, who finished with seven rebounds.
Added Ruff: “It was great awareness by Nat. There were two people on her because she was doubled the whole night. I just yelled her name. She passed it and I just chucked it up there.”
Meanwhile, the Yellowjackets’ 3-2 zone made things very difficult on Durr over the closing stretch. On several possessions in the fourth quarter, four OHS defenders took turns keeping Durr from penetrating into the lane, something she did with great effectiveness while scoring 16 points in the first half.
Durr would start on the right side against DiMartin, then as she dribbled left, she’d was met by Ruff, then Webster and then Baker.
“At halftime, we said if she was getting a ball screen, we had to come foot-to-foot,” Miller said. “That way, she wouldn’t be able to split the defense and get into the lane. We needed five girls guarding. We needed to be each other’s eyes and each other’s voices. We had to buckle down and that zone we ran had a lot of man principles.”
With about a minute left, Durr shot an airball on a three-pointer that resulted in a shot-clock violation, but UND still had a chance after Ruff missed a three with 30 seconds to play.
With 15 seconds remaining, UND reversed the ball to Harris on the left wing. DiMartin contested the three-point shot, forcing a wild miss and then grabbed the rebound.
“Maria had a great (close out),” said Ruff, the lone underclassman in a starting lineup filled out by Dower, Webster, Baker and Vanderlaan-Meyering. “She didn’t jump out at her, she just came at her. It was great defense by her.”
DiMartin was fouled with 12.8 seconds left, UND’s sixth team foul. OHS then inbounded to Ruff, who was fouled with 11.4 seconds to play, setting up a 1-and-1.
Ruff, who went 5-for-13 from the line in Oneonta’s ragged 41-33 win over Seton Catholic Central in last Saturday’s Section Four championship win, calmly sank both free throws to seal the victory.
“I had so much confidence she wasn’t going to have two bad games in a row and that’s if we’re calling the game against Seton where she had 14 points and a bunch of rebounds a bad game,” Miller said. “She wasn’t going to play that way again. She’s way too mentally strong.”
Of getting to Troy, Vanderlaan-Meyering said: “I’m just so happy. We’ve been working toward this for so many years _ since we were freshmen. We’ve all been together for so long. We knew we had to come out and do really well.”
Oneonta 57, Utica ND 52
CLASS B STATE QUARTERFINAL
Saturday at Onondaga Community College
Number preceding team indicates section
4-ONEONTA (20-1): Hayley Dower 1-2 0-0 3, Minnie Webster 2-7 0-0 6, Kelsey Baker 2-8 2-3 6, Mariah Ruff 9-16 5-6 28, Natalie Vanderlaan-Meyering 5-13 1-4 11, Sierra Sangetti-Daniels 0-1 1-2 1, Maria DiMartin 1-2 0-0 2, Erin Mushtare 0-0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 20-49 9-15 57.
3-UTICA NOTRE DAME (17-6): Anari Harris 4-10 0-2 10, Maggie Sehring 4-5 0-0 9, Emily Durr 8-21 4-4 23, Katie Burschmann 0-2 0-0 0, Jordan Morgan 2-3 4-4 8, Jackie Hajec 0-4 2-2 2. TOTALS: 18-45 10-12 52.
Oneonta 14 18 17 8 — 57
Utica Notre Dame 13 19 13 7 — 52
Three-point field goals: O 8 (Dower, Webster 2, Ruff 5); U 6 (Harris 2, Sehring, Durr 3).
Rob Centorani can be reached at email@example.com or 607-432-1000, ext. 209.