TROY – Chautauqua Lake coach Eric Schuster didn’t sugarcoat things Saturday afternoon.
How could he?
The Thunderbirds’ fell short of history. They fell short of accomplishing their goal and the way it happened shocked not only the coach of the former state champions but also the skipper of the crew that has a very good shot at being Chautauqua Lake’s successor.
The Thunderbirds’ reign ended in stunning fashion as Section III champion Cooperstown strung together a 30-point fourth quarter to pull off a 59-50 comeback win in the New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association Class C girls state semifinal Saturday afternoon.
An estimated 1,000 at Hudson Valley Community College’s Edward F. McDonough Sports Complex watched as Liz Millea scored eight of her 20 points during the final eight minutes while Maria Noto wore the heroine’s cap, scoring seven of her nine in the final quarter. Her three-pointer with 1:40 left broke a 47-47 tie, putting the Hawkeyes ahead for good. They will play for the championship at 11:45 a.m. Sunday against Section VII champion Northern Adirondack.
CL’s loss means it failed to join Pine Valley as the only Western New York girls basketball team to win consecutive state titles.
“Our goal was to get here and then we take it from there,” Schuster said. “At no point in time did we tell the kids that, hey, we made it back we accomplished our goal. That goal changes. That goal turns into not looking ahead of our first opponent. … We got beat by a good team today.”
Senior Jenna Einink scored a game-high 21 points and had 14 rebounds to lead Chautauqua Lake (23-2), which made 15 of its 24 turnovers in the second half and also struggled shooting from the floor (17 for 56 for 30 percent, including just 2 for 11 from beyond the arc).
CL was supposed to have the edge inside but missed several makeable layups, which after the third quarter didn’t seem like such a big deal with the Thunderbirds leading, 36-29.
It came to forefront as Cooperstown (24-1), which dealt with foul trouble the opening three quarters, unleashed its hounds, going with the press and making the Thunderwolves uncomfortable.
It got worst when senior starting point guard Courtney Hewes fouled out with more than six minutes left, forcing Einink from a finishing role to running the offense. Hewes finished with seven points.
While an emotional Hewes didn’t think she committed a charge after making a steal and driving to the basket for a potential layup, Schuster agreed with the call.
“It looked like the girl had her feet set,” Schuster said. “I’m not going to sugarcoat whether it was or not. I think it was a charge.”
Chautauqua Lake led by as many as 11 points, 31-20, with 5:31 left in the third quarter as Einink scored six points during an 8-2 run to open the second half, but Cooperstown didn’t let the Thunderbirds pull away.
“We knew we had to open the floor a little bit because we couldn’t go push against their bigs anymore,” winning coach Mike Niles said. “We had to press them eventually. We couldn’t do it earlier because of foul trouble. I think it worked out.”