Before Saturday’s Class D Far West Regional, Franklinville coach Allan Dunlap motivated his Panthers by telling them nobody believed they would return to this game due to losing some of their top players from last year’s state final team.
One player Franklinville did not lose, though, was Danielle Haskell, and that made all the difference Saturday at SUNY Buffalo State. The junior tore through Elba’s defense on her way to a game-high 33 points in leading the Panthers to a 49-32 win and consecutive victories over the Lancers in the girls basketball regional round.
Franklinville (18-6), which lost by three points in overtime in last year’s state championship game, will return to the state Final Four next weekend, starting Friday at Hudson Valley Community College.
"Our kids just stepped up and did an amazing job this season," Dunlap said. "It’s an amazing feeling for them and I’m so glad they get to experience it again."
Haskell, who’s already racked up more than 2,000 career points, outscored the entire Elba squad on Saturday, including notching 19 points in the second half. Franklinville outscored Elba 26-13 over the final two quarters.
Elba (22-2) was led by 11 points from sophomore captain Leah Bezon. For Franklinville, junior Abby Burrell finished with five points and nine rebounds and classmate Abby McCoy chipped in with five points and seven rebounds. Franklinville had lost starting senior guard Bri Broadwell to an ACL tear in the Section VI final against Panama.
"It feels almost better than last year, even though last year was really great," said Haskell, who added 11 rebounds and four assists. "Coming into this year, I don’t think anyone thought we’d get this far, so just getting here is incredible."
Haskell said she read in the paper that Elba had plans not to double cover her so she was excited for the opportunity, although she did face defensive pressure every time she drove to the basket.
"Obviously, it’s a little easier when they don’t have two girls on you," Haskell said. "We knew they were pretty young so we went into the game with the mentality that we could be bigger, stronger and more mature, and I think that helped us a lot."
Dunlap said Elba took away the 3-pointer and both teams struggled to score, but Haskell was still able to dominate.
"Her skillset and basketball IQ are off the charts," Dunlap said of Haskell. "They did a great job on Dani but she was able to knife through to get to the rim."
After a competitive first half – Franklinville led 23-19 – in which Elba jumped out to a 7-2 lead to start the game, the Panthers switched to a zone, forcing their opponent to take more jump shots. Franklinville held Elba to just three points in the third quarter.
"I can’t say enough about all the kids – big shots, big plays, big rebounds and defensive stops," Dunlap said. "I think the zone forced Elba to get farther away from the bucket and that helped us."
Franklinville stretched its lead to 33-22 after three quarters and scored the first two buckets of the fourth to go up 15 points. Elba went on a 5-0 run to cut the deficit to 38-28 midway through the fourth but Haskell and company were too much.
"We’re going to go to a team dinner and hopefully there are fire trucks waiting for us in Franklinville," Dunlap said.