By Dean Russin
The Daily Star
---- — ONEONTA — Franklin’s girls had a shot, which didn’t seem remotely possible with less than two minutes to play.
“We knew we had a final push,” said third-year Franklin coach Mike Dutcher, whose first-time Section Four basketball champions nearly went from down-and-out to Class D state semifinalist before falling, 51-46, to Oriskany on Saturday at Oneonta State.
Section Three champion Oriskany (22-0) took a 47-36 lead when Brandi Zizzi sank the last of her four three-point field goals with 3 minutes, 45 seconds left in the Class D state quarterfinal, which drew a near-capacity crowd to Dewar Arena. The Redskins maintained that cushion until Beers drifted off a screen for a three-pointer from the left diagonal with 1:28 remaining.
That sparked a 10-1 Franklin run fueled by two Oriskany turnovers, three defensive rebounds off missed free throws and seven of Beers’ game-high 30 points. Marisa Cawley ended the spurt by making the second free throw of a two-shot foul, pulling the Purple Devils (20-1) to 48-46 with 25.2 seconds left.
“To battle back like that and have a chance to tie the game, just credit the girls’ toughness and perseverance and just a never-die attitude in them,” said Dutcher, whose team never led but never gave up, even after falling behind by 14 points midway through the second quarter and again at the start of the third quarter.
Those rallies paled in comparison to the fourth-quarter charge, though.
“They’re a great team and we knew our lead wasn’t going to last unless we kept up the intensity,” Redskins senior center Christina Graziadei said. “I expected it was going to be a close game at the end.”
It couldn’t have gotten much closer, especially after Graziadei missed the front end of a 1-and-1 free throw opportunity with 22.6 seconds left. Franklin senior forward Haley Downin rebounded the miss and got the ball to Beers, who trotted up the center of the court before breaking hard to the right side.
Beers drew multiple defenders, then whipped the ball back to a wide-open Downin at the top of the key. Downin squared up for a three-pointer that swooped in and out as if a cereal bowl covered the basket, and Graziadei secured the rebound while Cawley fouled her to stop the clock at 9.1 seconds.
“That’s a good look for (Downin),” Dutcher said. “That one kind of rolls out, and we had that layup (by Cawley with 25.2 seconds left) that could have been a three-point opportunity for us that kind of rimmed out. That’s the way basketball goes.”
Facing another 1-and-1 situation, Graziadei made the first to make it 49-46 but missed the second. After grabbing her game-high 14th rebound, Beers raced up the floor and pulled up for a deep three-pointer that fell short of the rim and bounced out of bounds.
“If you were to draw it up, we want the ball in (Beers’) hands,” Dutcher said of Franklin’s final shot attempt, which capped an 18-for-59 effort from the floor. “Maybe she didn’t get her feet totally underneath her, but that’s who we want taking that shot.”
Oriskany called a timeout with 3.2 seconds left, then inbounded to Jordan Sahl, who was fouled by Downin with 1.7 to go. With Oriskany in the two-shot bonus, Sahl made both free throws for the final margin.
Sahl finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds for the Redskins, who jumped to a 14-4 lead after one quarter and took a 27-16 advantage into halftime.
Franklin battled back with seven points from Beers and six from Cawley in a 15-9 third quarter. Beers also hit a pull-up three from the right side with Madison Zizzi in her face, pulling the Purple Devils to 36-34 with 20 seconds gone in the final quarter.
Oriskany responded with an 8-0 run featuring a turnaround bankshot by Graziadei and threes from Brandi Zizzi and Shannon VanShufflin. The difference in the final score actually matched the difference in made three-pointers as Oriskany shot 8-for-29 from behind the arc and Franklin finished 3-for-14.
“Our gameplan was to try to take away that middle and the other girls stepped up for them,” said Beers, who went 11-for-34 from the field, including a 3-for-10 effort from three-point range. “They played really well.”
Franklin’s plan worked wonders on 6-foot-1 center Graziadei, who followed her 31-point performance in the Section Three final with six Saturday. It did leave the perimeter exposed, though, as Brandi Zizzi and VanShufflin sank three three-pointers apiece in the second half.
“If the inside’s getting shut down, we’re really good about stepping up and hitting those shots when we have to hit them,” said Hartwick College-bound Graziadei, who had a team-best 13 rebounds. “I don’t think they love to take those shots, but if they have to, they’ll take them and they’ll hit them.”
Said Dutcher: “We prepared all week for their size and their physicality. ... Really, we were shutting down the paint. In the second half, they weren’t really getting anything inside, we were taking that away from them, but they found the right time to get hot with the threes. They picked a great time to get hot, no doubt about it.”
Brandi Zizzi finished with four threes and a team-best 14 points for the Redskins, who advanced to a state semifinal against Section Nine champion Livingston Manor (8-10) at 9 a.m. Friday at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy.
Oriskany coach Angela Meiss, whose team fell to South Kortright in this round last season, said she wouldn’t be surprised to see Franklin make a deep run next season.
“Jordan’s a great player. She’s going to have great things in her future,” Meiss said. “It’s upsetting someone has to lose and I feel for them, but with Jordan and Cawley being juniors, they’re going to come back and have a great year next year, too.”
“We repeated as Tri-Valley League champions, we won our first Section Four title. It was just an absolute pleasure working with these girls for the last four months,” he said. “It stings a little now, but it’s time for a new beginning for next year and it looks real promising.”
Oriskany 51, Franklin 46
CLASS D STATE QUARTERFINAL
Saturday at Oneonta State
Number before team indicates section
3-ORISKANY (22-0): Madison Zizzi 4-12 0-0 8, Hannah Hoehn 1-5 0-0 3, Christina Graziadei 2-10 2-5 6, Brandi Zizzi 5-9 0-0 14, Brandi Gauthier 0-1 0-0 0, Shannon VanShufflin 3-14 0-1 9, Meriah Kotary 0-0 0-0 0, Jordan Sahl 3-5 5-6 11. TOTALS: 18-56 7-12 51.
4-FRANKLIN (20-1): Marisa Cawley 5-15 1-8 11, Kristin Heidenreich 0-0 0-0 0, Mariah McNeilly 0-2 0-2 0, Paige Fairchilds 0-0 0-0 0, Jordan Beers 11-34 5-7 30, Haley Downin 2-8 1-2 5, Mara Stalter 0-0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 18-59 7-19 46.
Oriskany 14 13 9 15 — 51
Franklin 4 12 15 15 — 46
Three-point field goals: O 8-29 (M. Zizzi 0-6, Hoehn 1-5, Graziadei 0-1, B. Zizzi 4-7, VanShufflin 3-10); F 3-14 (Cawley 0-1, Beers 3-10, Downin 0-3). Rebounds: O 37 (Graziadei 13, Sahl 11); F 39 (Beers 14, Downin 10). Turnovers: O 6; F 6.
Dean Russin can be reached at email@example.com or 607-432-1000, ext. 215.