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Canton girls turn back SLC to end Section 10 title drought


POTSDAM - A late-season loss to an underdog Potsdam Central squad put things into post-season perspective for the Canton Central girls basketball team.

“It helped us a lot. It taught us that we have to keep working as hard as we can in every game and that teams aren’t just going to hand games to us,” said senior Katie Christy after the Lady Bears captured their first Section 10 Class C championship since the mid-1990’s with a 45-32 decision over St. Lawrence Central at SUNY Potsdam’s Jerry Welsh Gymnasium on Friday.

“Last year we got to the championship game and we had no experience. This year, we came in better prepared. We were in a little trouble early in the game but everybody just kept working hard,” Christy added. “It feels awesome right now.”

With the win over the Lady Larries, the Lady Bears earned their first trip to the New York State Class C playoffs since 1996. They also advanced to the Section 10 Overall Tournament with a chance to win for the first time since 1977.

“I started working with this group since they were fourth, fifth and sixth-graders and it’s nice to see them progress to where they wanted to be,” said coach Mike Myers as the Lady Bears successfully followed up on their NAC Central Division regular season banner run by outlasting the Lady Larries through the first three quarters then putting them away with a 14-7 fourth-quarter surge.

“St. Lawrence had us on the ropes in the first half but I thought our defense in the third quarter really set the tone. Our press wore them down and we started making our shots,” he added. “That loss to Potsdam really got us refocused. We’ve already seen in the playoffs that the top seed doesn’t always win and that we had to be ready to come out and play all four quarters tonight. It’s a nice feeling.”

The Lady Larries were also looking to end a lengthy sectional title drought that dates back to the mid-1970’s but after a strong start where they built a 10-3 lead through the first 3:16 of the game, they only managed another 15 points for the next two and a-half quarters and were unable to keep pace with the Canton offense in the fourth.

“Coach told us before the game that we had to keep pushing the ball up the court the whole game and make this a track meet,” noted Christy, who anchored a balanced Canton offense with a game-high 12 points, including a pair of three-pointers.

According to Chad Gauthier, who was brought in as head coach of the Lady Larries the week before the regular season was due to start when his predecessor, Ryan White, vacated the position to begin attending New York State Police Academy, the Canton strategy worked.

“We fought hard but just didn’t have the bench and on a big court like this, it’s something you have to have,” he said after guiding the SLC girls to a 10-10 record this winter.

“It’s been at least 30 years since St. Lawrence girls basketball has won sectionals. Our goal at the beginning of the season was to make it here to this game and we were here,” Gauthier added. “It’s been a great season. We lose five seniors but we had a lot of younger players in the game and on the bench who are going to want to be here again next year. We’re hoping to get a lot of them playing this summer.”

After falling behind 10-3, the Lady Bears steadily worked their way back into the game, closing out the first quarter with nine straight points to take a 12-10 lead. Christy opened the second quarter with a three-pointer but the early five-point advantage would be the biggest of the half for Canton as the Lady Larries twice battled back to make it a one-point game in a low-scoring frame where the teams generated a combined 17 points. A short range jumper by freshman Haleigh Agans cut the Canton lead to 19-18 with 50 seconds left in the half but a last-second shot by junior Rachel Sanderson put the Lady Bears ahead 21-18 at the break.

Junior Jenna Kesner made it a one-point game 13 seconds into the third quarter but Canton countered with the next 10 points in building a 31-20 lead. A late 5-0 run by SLC cut the deficit to 31-25 after three quarters but the Lady Bears finally put the game out of reach with a 14-1 run over the first five minutes of the fourth that made the score 45-26.

Daley finished with eight points while Sanderson, Emma Rexford and Emily Pinckney each netted six followed by Kaeli Mace with four and Kali Frank with three.

Senior forward Samantha Richards worked the paint for 10 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Lady Larries. Classmate Breanna Vatter chipped in six. Senior Caitlin Grow (7 rebounds, 4 blocks), junior Lindsay Thayer (14 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks, 2 steals) and Kesner contributed four points each while Agans finished with two along with sophomore Chelsea Savage.

The Lady Bears head into the overall tournament with a 17-3 record and will take on Class A champion Massena in the second semi-final game on Tuesday starting at 7:15 p.m. Class B champion Salmon River and Class D champion Hammond will meet in the first game of the night at 5 p.m. The overall final is slated for Friday at 5 p.m. All three games are slated for Jerry Welsh Gymnasium.

The Lady Bears will then get set to open the state Class C tournament on Tuesday, March 3, at SUNY Adirondack in Queensbury against a yet-to-be determined Section 2 champion starting at 6 p.m.

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