Win or go home

Fredonia and Southwestern to square off for Class B title

OBSERVER File Photo Above, Fredonia’s Katie Price looks for an opening off the power dribble while being defended by Southwestern point guard Erin Radack during a regular season girls basketball game.

Just days after beating Dunkirk for the Section 6 Class B1 title, the Fredonia Lady Hillbillies will face another familiar foe today at Buffalo State for the overall Class B championship: Southwestern.

Like Dunkirk, Southwestern is in CCAA Division 1 West with Fredonia. The Lady Trojans beat the Lady Billies twice in the regular season: A 59-36 decision in Fredonia on Dec. 13 and a 55-42 win at Southwestern on Jan. 19.

To Lady Trojans coach Dave Turnbull, his team’s regular season defeats of Fredonia mean nothing.

“You can throw them out,” he said. “In the playoffs, as we’ve seen this season, there’s so many upsets. It boils down to if the kids can play under pressure in a big venue.”

Fredonia and Southwestern also have a recent history in the playoffs. The Lady Trojans ended the Lady Hillbillies’ season two years ago with a 46-41 victory in the Class B2 final, back when Fredonia was in that class. The teams missed each other in last season’s playoffs, when Fredonia was moved to Class B1 and made a run from there to the overall Class B statewide final four.

Most of the players from the Southwestern team that beat Fredonia in the 2016 playoffs have graduated. Only Alanna Dibble and Erin Radack remain. Radack was the Lady Trojans’ top scorer in that defense-oriented contest as a freshman jayvee call-up; this season, as a junior, she led the team in overall scoring.

“Their offense runs through Radack and Dibble,” Fredonia coach Carol Zirkle said. “We have to try to contain those two players, that’s the first step. You have to try and contain everyone else, but those two are first.”

Turnbull said all eight of his core players are vital to his team’s success.

“For us, it’s all hands on deck,” he said. “All eight of our kids get significant minutes… six different kids have led (games) in scoring this year. To be honest with you, we couldn’t have done what we’ve done without all eight kids and that’s how I look at this game.”

Fredonia has four players remaining from the 2015-16 team, including leading scorer Katie Price.

She’s joined by Hannah Gullo, A’Cetta Farrait and Gracie Morrison, all key contributors this season for the Lady Billies.

Southwestern likes to press on defense, and Zirkle knows the best way to deal with that is to stay calm.

“We have to keep our composure, we have to not panic,” she said. “We have to get to correct positions on offense. We have to run the press breaker offense the way we practice it — do it in the game consistently.”

The Lady Billies do some defensive pressing of their own, and Turnbull has similar thoughts on breaking it.

“You just have to slow things down,” he said. “You’ve got to practice against that kind of pressure…we do the best we can in practice to mimic what teams do. If the kids can slow things down and let the game come to them, good things will happen.”

On offense, it will be important for Fredonia to have the high degree of ball movement they did in beating Dunkirk.

“I think that the key for us is to share the ball like we did last game. It means the offense is working well and we’re seeing our teammates and taking the best possible shots,” Zirkle said.

Moving the ball around is also important for Southwestern.

“We’re an extremely unselfish team,” Turnbull said. “We do move the ball and are always looking to make the extra pass. There are occasions where we’re almost unselfish to a fault, we may overpass. But that’s a good problem to have, when you have a group of kids that are that unselfish.”

Zirkle deliberately schedules what she thinks will be tough early-season games for her team, to get the Lady Hillbillies used to the crucible of competing against elite teams. Her choices this past December turned out to be impressive: After the Dec. 13 home loss to Southwestern, Fredonia played consecutive games against eventual Class C champion Allegany-Limestone and Class D victor Franklinville. The Lady Hillbillies lost both contests to drop to 0-4 before beating Dunkirk on Dec. 22.

“There’s no question that the experience we got playing those teams is helping in the playoff run,” Zirkle said.

The Fredonia coach said today’s game boils down to one thing.

“Are we able to execute?” she said. “That’s the key, which team executes their game plan better.”

“I think Fredonia presents a heck of a challenge,” Turnbull concluded. “They’re used to big venues. We’re going to have our work cut out for us.”