TROY - The Chautauqua Lake Lady Thunderbirds (22-1) had plenty of reasons to be nervous in the opening minutes of their first-ever Class C New York State Public High School Athletic Association semifinal meeting with Haldane on Saturday afternoon at Hudson Valley Community College, but that sure didn't slow them down.
A few unlucky bounces and missed shots in the first two minutes against the Lady Blue Devils were quickly forgotten thanks to stellar outings from guards Courtney Hewes and Tara Hunt as Chautauqua Lake rolled to a dominant 61-39 win.
The Lady Thunderbirds will now have a shot at their first ever state title today at 1:45 p.m. when they face Hoosic Valley, which defeated Harpursville, 55-44, in the other semifinal.
Photo by Jay Young
Courtney Hewes of Chautauqua Lake, left, watches her shot go through the hoop with Haldane's Cali Schweikhart during New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class C girls basketball semifinal action at Hudson Valley Community College on Saturday.
Photo by Jay Young
Chautauqua Lake's Tara Hunt gets ready to set up a play against Haldane in Saturday's New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class C girls basketball semifinal game at Hudson Valley Community College.
Coach Eric Schuster's team was unable to finish two easy shots on its first offensive possession and found itself in a 2-0 hole after not converting on the next open chance, but that was the only lead that Haldane would have for the entire game.
Back-to-back buckets in the paint from Ashton Albanesius and Jenna Einink gave Chautauqua Lake its first lead and then Hunt was able to extend the margin with a driving bucket on a fast break.
While Chautauqua Lake has made a habit of terrorizing teams down low with Einink and Albanesius all year, it was the outside play of Hewes and Hunt that really made things difficult for Haldane.
Great teams have the ability to adapt to different opponents in difficult situations and that is exactly what Schuster's squad was able to do on Saturday.
Hewes caught fire from beyond the arc toward the end of the opening quarter after sinking a trey on a nice feed from Hunt and from there on out it was all over.
"I was just being confident and saying (to myself) 'You have to make it,'" said Hewes of her shooting streak.
When the Lady Thunderbirds were able to jump out to their big lead in the second period they had to worry about foul trouble as Albanesius picked up her second personal on a charge midway through the first quarter and Einink earned her second with 30 seconds to go in the opening quarter.
In danger of losing one or both of its best players, Chautauqua Lake never panicked in the face of adversity.
Sam Lisikatos was able to bring the Lady Blue Devils to within four thanks to a baseline jumper, but Chautauqua Lake was still able to end the first period with a solid 15-7 lead.
After making a clutch shot early in the game to give her team some much-needed offense, Hewes began the second quarter in the same way with a trey from the wing to stretch the lead to 11.
Due to the foul issues, both Albanesius and Einink missed significant time in the first half, but you wouldn't know it by looking at the scoreboard.
Hewes pumped in another trey to put the Lady Thunderbirds up 21-12 and then promptly scored on a fast break turnover to keep her offense rolling.
"I can't say enough,'' Schuster said. "Courtney stepped her game up in the first half, the kids that came off the bench at halftime, what a great effort. Jenna and Ashton both sat the whole second quarter and two or three minutes in the first quarter. So to be able to lengthen the lead and be up by 21 at halftime with those two kids on the bench for the whole second quarter-plus, it's just unreal. I don't know what to say."
Coming off the bench to serve key minutes was Katie Doyle, who was able to feed off the shooting of Hewes and pump in a 3 of her own to end the period with a 37-16 Lady Thunderbirds' lead.
Heading into the semifinal matchup, there was concern that Haldane guard Allie Monteleone would give Chautauqua Lake trouble, but the junior was frustrated all night with defensive pressure from Hunt and Hewes. Despite averaging more than 20 points per game, she would end the contest with just three points and six rebounds.
In the face of intense pressure, Monteleone was responsible for five turnovers while Lisikatos lost the ball seven times.
By the end of four quarters Chautauqua Lake totaled 15 steals thanks to its pursuit of the ball.
After having to sit his dominant post players early and for a significant amount of time, Schuster had much more freedom in the second half to change his lineup thanks to the massive lead.
"The whole second quarter I just told the kids, 'Lets weather the storm' and the lead kept growing and growing, and our two best players are sitting on the bench," he said.
It was clear that both Albanesius and Einink were eager to get to work after having to sit for more than a quarter as both players were their usually dominant selves in the paint at the start of the third quarter.
Einink finished with a team-high 16 boards, 12 points, three assists and six steals while Albanesius managed 11 points and five boards.
Sam Lisikatos was the only Lady Blue Devil who was able to find any offensive rhythm as she led the way with 22 points on five 3s, the majority of which came during the final period.
With Albanesius and Einink back in the game, Hewes continued to pour in points while Hunt found open shooters with ease.
Hewes led the way for Chautauqua Lake with 19 points and six steals while Hunt was excellent with nine assists, two steals and five points. Ashley Moulton also logged key minutes in the paint and ended the contest with six points and 11 rebounds.
"I'm just so proud of these kids, we're going to the championship game and I expect good things,'' Schuster said. "We're going to enjoy the rest of the night and come with our game faces (Sunday).''
CHAUTAUQUA LAKE (61)
Einink 5 2 12, Albanesius 5 1 11, Hewes 7 1 19, Hunt 2 1 5, Moulton 2 2 6, Doyle 1 3 6, Phelps 0 0 0, Hawkins 0 2 2, Barrows 0 0 0. Totals 22 12 61.
AMonteleone 1 0 3, SLisikatos 7 3 22, Schweikhart 2 0 4, MLisikatos 1 3 5, Harrison 1 1 3, Marino 1 0 2. Totals 13 7 39.
3-point goals: Monteleone, SLisikatos 5, Hewes 4, Doyle.
CLCS 15 22 13 11- 61
Haldane 7 9 15 8-39