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Salmon River girls basketball team geared up for state Class B semi-finals

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FORT COVINGTON – Talk about peaking at the right time.

The Salmon River girls are on a full upswing of their basketball season, playing the type of game that Head Coach Karen Francis has “been waiting to see all season.”

The lady Shamrocks earned the Region 2 championship crown on Saturday, defeating Section 2 champion Watervliet 73-65, with what Coach Francis pointed out as “a total team effort.

“Everyone contributed to this win,” Francis stated after the victory in Potsdam, then projected that “we need to have the same type of effort in our next game at the Final Four.”

The victory in Potsdam advanced the Shamrocks (16-5) to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) Class B semifinal game against Section 5’s Waterloo (21-1) at 11:45 a.m. at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy on Friday. Waterloo, currently ranked fourth in the latest New York State Sportswriters Association (NYSSWA) Class B poll, punched its ticket to the Final Four with a 41-37 victory over Section 6’s Olean (19-3). The other Class B semifinal contest will pit Irvington (21-2) against Oneonta (21-1), which are currently ranked 1-2, respectively, in the same state rankings. Salmon River is seemingly the underdog of the final four teams, entering Friday’s game ranked fifth in the latest NYSSWA poll.

As they have been for the majority of their Northern Athletic Conference season, the lady Shamrocks have been led offensively by junior standout Abby Kelly, who poured in 35 points during the win against Watervliet. Kelly finished ranked among the top scorers in the NAC, averaging 23.3 points per game with 34 3-pointers to her credit and shooting around 50 percent from the field on the season.

But as Coach Francis pointed out, it takes the efforts of all members of the team to win.

One of the inside forces for the Shamrocks, who coach pointed out had “probably her best overall game of the season,” is Aliyah Cook, another junior who has stepped up her game at the right time of the year.

Cook (9.8 points per game) added a 17-point, five-rebound effort against Watervliet, tossing in a pair of 3-pointers and seven free throws with four charity tosses coming in the crucial 12-4 fourth-quarter run by SRC that propelled the girls to the state semifinals. Cook was among the NAC Central Division leaders in rebounds during the regular season with 8.9 rebounds per game.

Adding to the board play for the lady Shamrocks is junior Kwiio King, who made the jump back to the hardwood from a year of playing hockey for Salmon River. King stepped up her game in the fourth quarter against Watervliet as well, scoring all seven of her points during the final stanza, while collecting eight caroms, handing out three assists and making four steals. King has been another force on the boards for SRC, averaging 8.5 rebounds and 7.4 points per league contest.

Helping out in the backcourt are two more juniors, Jaiden Mitchell and Taylor Francis.

Mitchell (7.9 ppg) connected on three buckets from beyond the arc for her nine points during the win against Watervliet and helped down low with five rebounds while making a pair of steals.

Francis quietly scored seven points, hitting her shots at critical times to halt a Watervliet run, grabbed eight rebounds, handed out three assists and made four steals – two in the final two minutes of the game against Watervliet – to help maintain the lead for Salmon River.

It wasn’t just the juniors that helped propell the Shamrocks to the final four, as seniors Zaagaate Jock and Samantha “Sam” Ghostlaw came off the bench at key junctures of the regional game and provided a valuable break for the players on the floor. Neither senior found their way into the scoring column, but Jock collected four rebounds during her stints against Watervliet while Ghostlaw helped in the backcourt against the long-armed reach of the Lady Cannoneers.

“I’m still in awe of how well our girls played on Saturday,” continued the Salmon River coach, who as a SRC player helped lead the lady Shamrocks to the final four in 1982 – the last appearance by an SRC girls squad.

“Looking ahead, right now we are enjoying the journey,” added Coach Francis. “We know we have our work cut out for us this weekend, but the girls are focused and ready to dig in again. I have full confidence in our players and know their potential. I’m excited for them because I know how hard they have worked, not only this year, but all the years leading up to now.

“This is a nice reward,” she summarized.

As for the Shamrocks’ opponent on Friday, the Waterloo Indians have a trio of players that can – and do – put the ball through the hoop. They are led by juniors Lindsay Johnson and Lauren Deming, both six-footers who scored 15 and 12 points, respectively, in the regional final against Olean. Johnson averaged 17.6 points per game to lead the Indians to their 21-1 record while Deming tossed in an average of 15.9 points per game for the 2012-13 season.

The third member of the scoring trio for Waterloo is junior Chelsea Steinruck, who scored seven of her nine points in the fourth quarter against Olean to aid in the victory. Steinruck has also averaged double figures in scoring for the season at 11.1 ppg and has helped the team from the outside during its current 10-game win streak, connecting on 79 percent of her shots from the field.

Both teams look to extend their respective seasons, but, in the end, one team must fall. The winner of the Salmon River/Waterloo contest will meet the winner of the Irvington/Oneonta winner at 4 p.m. on Saturday for the Class B state title right back on the same HVCC hardwood.

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