Oneonta High's first obstacle toward winning the program's initial Southern Tier Athletic Conference girls basketball title comes against a resurgent Binghamton squad that has won seven of its last eight games.
"They've improved a lot since our first scrimmage against them in November," OHS coach Bob Zeh said of Binghamton, which will host the Yellowjackets at 6:30 tonight in a STAC semifinal. "They play good man-to-man defense. They like to get after it. They'll be pressing us the whole game."
The Patriots (10-7) advanced to tonight's game by defeating Union-Endicott, 54-42, in a STAC Metro Division tiebreaker Friday.
The Binghamton/Oneonta winner gets Seton Catholic Central or Horseheads in the final at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Binghamton University Events Center. SCC plays host to Horseheads tonight.
Mission No. 1 for the Yellowjackets will be trying to contain Patriots junior Jen Morabito, who is averaging a STAC-best 21.6 points.
"She's just a good all-around player," Zeh said of the 5-foot-10 Morabito. "Other than (OHS senior) Madie (Harlem), she's the best overall player in the league. She can handle it and shoot it from the outside. She's going to get 15-20 (points) no matter what."
Binghamton's second-best offensive threat is left-hander Phoebe Burns.
"She likes to shoot a lot of threes," Zeh said of Burns, who scored 14 points Friday against U-E. "Those are their two primary scorers. We just have to defend like we've been doing all year. We have to defend those two and rebound the basketball."
OHS, which last won a league title with a 62-48 victory over Bainbridge-Guilford in the 1999 Susquenango Association final, will have a decided height advantage Wednesday.
Zeh said Binghamton's tallest player is Morabito. The Yellowjackets (18-0) counter with 6-foot sisters Meredith and Val Ridgway.
"They're young and don't have a lot of size," Zeh said. "If we play the way we're capable, we should be OK."
Led by senior Harlem, OHS is off to its best start since the 1998-99 season, when they won their first 23 games. Dating to the season before _ when Oneonta the Class B Federation title and went 27-0 _ the Yellowjackets had their 50-game winning streak snapped with a 57-55 overtime loss to Our Lady of Lourdes in a 1999 Class B state quarterfinal.
A point guard who'll play for Division III Hamilton College next season, Harlem is the third all-time leading scorer in OHS history with 1,024 points. She needs 22 points to surpass Tiffany (Hurley) Carr to move into second on the Yellowjackets' scoring list.
Zeh's daughter, 1999 graduate Krissy, is Oneonta's all-time scoring leader with 1,698 points.
Harlem is averaging a team-best 18.6 points. Swing player Sienna Wisse, a sophomore, is next for OHS at 12.2 points and senior Meredith Ridgway averages 11.8.
"The last three games, we haven't been tested," Zeh said of two victories over Owego and one against Johnson City that the Yellowjackets won by an average of 35 points, "and we've been playing one game a week for three weeks. It's tough to keep them focused and in good shape.
"But we're looking forward to STACs after getting thrashed by Horseheads last season (a 45-17 loss to the Blue Raiders in a STAC semifinal)," he continued. "That was our poorest showing of the year. We're looking forward to it. We want to play Saturday in the Events Center."
Binghamton is coached by Oneonta State graduate Kristin Lemon. A phone message left at Lemon's house Sunday night was not returned.
Notes: OHS played in STAC in the 1970s and 80s before switching to the Susquenango Association in the early 1990s. The Yellowjackets returned to STAC in 2001, when the Sus morphed into the Midstate Athletic Conference, minus OHS, Windsor and Whitney Point. ... OHS defeated host SCC, 50-46, on Dec. 23. The Yellowjackets have not played Horseheads this season.
Rob Centorani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-432-1000, ext. 209.