The top two seeds in the Section II Class AA girls' basketball tournament secured title-game berths Monday evening. Junior point guards Cameron Tooley (Shenendehowa) and Shyla Sanford (Shaker) made sure their teams advanced.
Tooley produced a monster third quarter at both ends of the floor to help propel the second-seeded Plainsmen past Columbia 55-36 in the first semifinal.
Sanford, with Shaker senior star CeCe Mayo sitting on the bench after fouling out with 4:38 left, added to her superlative defensive performance with some offensive push down the stretch to lead the top-seeded Blue Bison to a 59-47 victory over Saratoga.
The title game will be played Saturday night at Glens Falls Civic Center. Shaker (20-2) beat Shenendehowa (20-2) 53-47 on Feb. 7 in Clifton Park.
After producing only five points in the first half, Tooley asserted herself late in the third quarter after Columbia (18-4) pulled within 33-32. First, the left-hander drained a jumper. Columbia turned it over and Tooley knocked down a 3-pointer.
"I knew I had to pick it up with my performance in the first half," Tooley said.
In the fourth quarter, Tooley knocked down two huge 3-pointers to extend the lead to 46-34. Conversely, the Blue Devils' offense struggled mightily in the fourth quarter — making only one of 10 shots to go with three turnovers over the final eight minutes.
Tooley and junior teammate Alexandra Tudor, the only two players entering this season with extensive varsity experience, each scored 17 points to pace the Plainsmen.
"It was always in the back of our minds," Tooley said about reaching the final. "It was iffy here and there. There are people that don't have us here, but we have a lot of potential. We have grown so much over the season. We definitely do have a chance."
Senior star Selena Lott and sophomore Lauren Obermayer each finished with 13 points to lead the Blue Devils.
After shaking hands with Saratoga at the conclusion of the second semifinal, Mayo embraced teammate Lexi DeBeathem and yelled, "one more."
For Mayo, the lone senior starter for the Blue Bison, a trip to the championship game wasn't a given after she was disqualified.
"Well, I was a little nervous," Sanford said "I knew I had to step up and take the game over."
And take over is exactly what Sanford did. It wasn't only the 11 points she scored after Mayo fouled out. Sanford also harried Saratoga freshman point guard Dolly Cairns after she dominated the game's first 18 minutes.
Cairns led all scorers with 23 points, but only six of them came over the final 14 minutes.
"I think she is one of the best defensive players in the Suburban Council," Shaker coach Ron Beaudoin said of Sanford, who began guarding Cairns in the second half.
Saratoga trailed 43-38 when Mayo left the game. The Blue Streaks turned it over on their next three possession and then endured a prolonged Shaker possession where it kept the ball with rebounds following missed foul shots. Julie DeBeatham later scored as the Blue Bison scored four points in a sequence that lasted more than one minute on the clock.
"It was definitely a game-changer: them not getting the ball to go down on offense," Sanford said.
Maddy Malicki scored 17 points for the Blue Bison, Mayo contributed 12 points and the DeBeatham sisters combined to score 12 points.
"I am very excited. Hopefully, we can win Saturday," Sanford said. "I feel we've worked hard all season. We've had our ups and downs, but we definitely pulled through."
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