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Massena girls basketball team defense Section 10 Class A title

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POTSDAM - The Massena Central girls basketball team got defensive about reclaiming the Section 10 Class A championship on Monday.

“Malone is very well coached and they are a well-disciplined team. This was definitely a defensive battle. Both teams did a great job of taking away the other team’s strengths,” said coach Roy Thomas after the Lady Raiders successfully defended their sectional title with a 41-36 decision over the Lady Huskies at SUNY Potsdam’s Jerry Welsh Gymnasium.

“Both teams made a lot of mistakes on offense and some of that had to do with the way they were playing defense. We struggled offensively but we managed to score five more points than they did and that’s all that matters,” Thomas added.

With the win, the Lady Raiders improved to 12-7 on the season. Along with earning a berth to the New York State Class A tournament, they advanced to the Section 10 Overall tournament semi-finals slated for next Tuesday night at Jerry Welsh Gym. Their opponent and game-time will be determined following the other three sectional finals slated for this Friday night at SUNY Potsdam.

The Lady Huskies finished their season at 11-8 but coach Shelly Skelly sees a brighter future for a team that featured only one senior.

“We had a very young team this year and when you have a young team likes there, they’re going to make mistakes. The key is learning from those mistakes and we did that a lot this year,” said Skelly.

“We talk a lot about climbing the ladder and trying to get better. Hopefully, the girls will keep working on basketball this summer and we’ll come back stronger next season,” she added.

On a night when points were hard to come by for both squads, Alisha Jacobs led all scorers with 15 points and also emerged as the leading rebound with a game-high 11 boards while notching four steals and blocking two shots. Marissa Manley tossed through another 10 points and pulled down eight rebounds. Sidney Thompson chipped in eight points followed by Erin Francis with five and Dominque Valancius with three. Valancius also logged four steals while Steffanie Premo fashioned a game-high five assists. All six players are seniors.

“We have seven seniors on the team and I think that experience was a factor,” said coach Thomas. “We beat Malone in the championship game last year and we had most of our players back. We also won our two regular season games this year. That gave us even more confidence but at the same time we didn’t want to be overconfident because we knew Malone was a capable team.”

Janelle Heden anchored the Malone scoresheet with 12 points on four three-pointers. She also had six rebounds, three assists and two steals while Morgan Fountain, who opened the game with a three-pointer from the top of the key, finished with 11 points, eight boards and four steals. Rachel Lamica made lead contributions from the paint where she netted eight points and gabbed a team-high 10 rebounds. Meghan O’Connor and Emily Marshall added two points each while Kirstin Barrett closed out the Lady Huskies scoresheet with a free throw.

Jacobs countered Fountain’s three with the first of her three triples to tie the score. The Lady Raiders went on to build a 9-7 lead through the first 3:34 of the game but then both offenses got stalled in neutral and that’s where the score stood at the end of the first quarter.

The Lady Huskies ended their scoring drought with a free throw two minutes into the second quarter to pull to within one then went ahead 14-9 over the next two and a-half minutes after Heden buried back-to-back threes.

After a Massena timeout, Valancius got the first points of the quarter when she banked through a three-pointer with just over three minutes left. Thompson then tied the game at 14-14 before Manley drained a pair of free throws to put Massena ahead 16-14. Jacobs capped the 10-0 run with a three-pointer with 1:06 left in the half and the Lady Raiders went on take a 21-16 lead into halftime.

Both teams struggled to find the mark to start the third quarter and neither scored until Thompson connected for a mid-range baseline jumper to give the Lady Raiders their biggest lead of the game at 23-16 with 5:36 left. Heden countered with a three-pointer but a quick eight-point run by Massena that included back-to-back threes by Jacobs and Francis pushed the lead to 31-19 before a late inside basket by Lamica cut the Malone deficit to 31-21 to start the fourth quarter.

“When we were down by 12 points, we could have just laid down and quit but we didn’t. We called timeout. We still had another nine minutes left and we told the girls to leave it all out on the court and that’s just what they did,” said Skelly.

The Lady Huskies opened the final frame with a 9-2 run that cut the Massena lead to 33-30 with 4:37 remaining. The teams then exchanged baskets through the next two minutes and a field goal by Fountain made it 39-36 with 38 seconds left. After seeing teammates miss two straight free throws, Thompson calmly stepped up and swished through a pair of foul shots with 20 seconds left to seal the win.

“It’s tough to beat a team three times in the same year,” said Manley after playing a lead role in the Lady Raider title defense. “Winning Class A last year and winning the two games this year gave us confidence. Malone made it tough to score but we found a way.”

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