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Fredonia embraces underdog role, repeats as Class B girls basketball champs

Fredonia knew it was going to be viewed as the underdog coming into the overall Class B girls basketball championship against Southwestern.

The Trojans beat the Hillbillies twice during the regular season, by 23 and 13 points, and had a 21-2 record as opposed to Fredonia’s 12-12. Fredonia came out of the Class B-1 bracket as the fifth seed. Southwestern was No. 3 in Class B-2.

The odds were stacked against a Hillbillies squad which lost four seniors, including the top three scorers, from last year’s state semifinalists who totaled 14 years of varsity experience.

But that’s the way they like it.

Fredonia (13-12) rallied late to defend its Class B crown in the first game of a championship triple-header at Buffalo State Wednesday with a 42-39 win over Southwestern (21-3).

“If you would’ve asked people at the beginning of the season, I don’t think anyone would’ve predicted that we would be overall Class B champs this year,” Fredonia coach Carol Zirkle said. “I think that it’s just a testament to how hard these girls have worked and how they persevered throughout a difficult nonleague and league schedule. There’s no easy games, and so every game is preparing you for down the road.”

Both teams had their share of runs during the first half. Southwestern scored eight straight points after starting down, 6-2, to help take a 10-8 lead after the first quarter.

The Trojans held Fredonia’s leading scorer, Katie Price, without any points over the first eight minutes by using a box-and-one defense. She scored her only field goal of the first half on a layup to tie it at 10-10, but Southwestern responded with six points. Four came on a pair of nice back cuts by Erin Radack (10 points).

Fredonia ended the half on an 8-0 run to turn an 18-13 deficit into a 21-18 lead at the break. Gracie Morrison and Kazlin Beers (nine points) each had four of those points.

Southwestern switched to a 2-3 zone coming out of halftime, and Price made it pay with three straight makes from beyond the arc to push Fredonia’s lead to 32-22 and force a Trojans timeout with 3:42 left in the third.

“It seemed to work very well for them,” said Price, who finished with a game-high 16 points, “so when they went into the zone I thought to myself that this is my chance to get some shots off and do what I can.”

The Trojans went back to the box-and-one and immediately went on a 17-3 run spanning to the fourth quarter to take a 39-34 lead with 4:07 to go.

Fredonia snapped a six-minute scoring drought with six straight points, while its defense didn’t allow a point the final 4:07.

Price’s fourth three with 1:50 left gave the Hillbillies a 40-39 lead, and she sank two free throws with 5.3 seconds on the clock. The game ended on a Radack attempt from just inside half court that hit the backboard and bounced off the front of the rim.

“The experience from last year helps,” Zirkle said. “We were down 10-0 in this game last year and we were able to fight back. I think being down by five with four minutes left we were able to fight back and believe in ourselves.”

Fredonia, which has won eight of its last nine games since starting the season 5-11, looks like it will be in its familiar underdog role once again during Saturday’s Far West Regionals at Rush-Henrietta at 7 p.m. The Hillbillies will take on an undefeated Midlakes (24-0) team that features the top scorer in Section V, junior guard Alaina Forbes (25 points per game).

“I’m just looking forward to having another game,” Price said. “A lot of people thought this was going to be our last one. Just to have another one with this team is awesome. If we win we get another banner, so I’m excited about that one.”

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