Red Dragons Ready For Friday Afternoon Semifinal
The Maple Grove girls are going to be a newcomer to the dance when they take the floor at Hudson Valley Community College on Friday afternoon for their New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class C semifinal against Section II champion Cambridge.
All three of the other semifinalists in Troy have played in a state Final Four in the past two years.
The Red Dragons (21-3), on the other hand, had never advanced past the Far West Regional until last weekend when they beat Section V champion Oakfield-Alabama at the Buffalo State Sports Arena.
His team’s relative lack of experience on the state’s biggest stage is not a cause for panic for Maple Grove head coach Bill Price.
Instead, he feels the Red Dragons’ Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Athletic Association Division 1 West matchups with Section VI Class B-2 champion Southwestern, B-1 finalist Olean, C-1 champion Chautauqua Lake and B-1 semifinalist Fredonia have prepared them just as well as any other team in New York state.
“We feel like the strength of our league schedule has helped us out,” Price said following practice Wednesday on Dutch Hollow Road. “That’s really prepared us for this game. I think we are battle-tested in that regard.”
Maple Grove’s 3:15 p.m. semifinal will be against Cambridge (23-1), the New York State Sportswriters Association’s No. 2 team in last week’s rankings. The Indians beat Section VII champion Moriah, 60-47, in the state quarterfinals last weekend.
First-year head coach Bob Phillips’ starting lineup features four sophomores — including his twin daughters Lilly and Sophie Phillips — and a freshman.
Sophie Phillips leads the team at 16.9 points, 3.1 assists and 2.7 steals to go along with 4.8 rebounds per game while Lilly Phillips averages 15.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.2 steals and 2.0 assists per game. Sophomore Fiona Mooney averages 9.8 points and a team-high 7.9 rebounds per game, but she may not play this weekend due to an injury. Freshman Stasia Epler averages 8.2 points per game, sophomore Ruth Nolan averages 5.0 ppg and sophomore McKayla McLenithan — who would start in Mooney’s place — averages 4.6 points and 3.9 rebounds per game.
“The twins are long, they’re athletic and they’re quick,” Price said. “They create problems with their defense. We’ve got to take care of the basketball or it’ll be a long day for us.”
Bob Phillips was an assistant coach for the past four years before taking over the head job this season. Included in that assistant coach run was a state semifinal loss last season.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Bob Phillips said by phone Monday evening. “We lost five seniors last year who really produced in terms of experience — three of them started at times.”
Cambridge won its fifth sectional title this season (1992, ’99, 2001 and ’18). Three previous times the Indians have won their regional and advanced to the state Final Four, but they have never won a state title.
“In the back of your mind you think you can do it,” Phillips said about returning to the state Final Four. “With such a young group, you don’t know how they’ll respond. They had a lot of confidence going in and it has continued as the season has gone on. It’s been a nice group to work with for sure.”
The Red Dragons are led by junior Bre Hill’s 12.5 points and 8.1 rebounds per game while senior Courtney Hemminger is averaging 11.0 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. Senior Marisa Schuppenhauer is averaging 10.2 points, 4.5 assists, 3.3 steals and 3.0 rebounds per game; freshman Sam Snow is averaging 8.2 points and 5.6 rebounds per game; and freshman Anna Tranum is averaging 6.3 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game.
“The last few games, we’ve had a couple of players who’ve stepped up … we can’t have that happen Friday,” Price said. ” … It’s not enough to have two or three players, it’s got to be five.”
Friday’s 1:30 p.m. semifinal will feature the defending champion Millbrook Blazers of Section IX against the 2017 champion Watkins Glen Senecas of Section IV.
Millbrook (19-1), the state’s No. 1 team according to the NYSSWA, beat Section XI champion Pierson/Bridgehampton/Shelter Island, 55-26, in their state quarterfinal last weekend.
Junior Erin Fox, who is committed to play at NCAA Division I Marist, scored 28 points for Millbrook, the defending state champion.
The Blazers are coached by Adam Peek and beat Section III champion Syracuse Academy of Science, 67-64, in last year’s title game.
Watkins Glen (20-4) is the state’s No. 3 team according to the most recent NYSSWA rankings. The Senecas beat Section III Cooperstown, 60-49, in last weekend’s state quarterfinal. Watkins Glen, which beat Section XI Port Jefferson, 65-63, in the 2017 state final, is coached by Alicia Learn.
Senior forward Taylor Kelly had 20 points to lead the Senecas in the regional championship game. Senior point guard Hannah Morse contributed 17 points, eight assists, six rebounds and three steals. Both are holdovers from the state championship season.
The winners of Friday’s games will meet in the state final on Saturday at 7 p.m.
“It feels so good inside,” Snow said Wednesday, “just knowing all the work we put in is so worth it to be where we are now.”
“I’m super stoked,” Hemminger added. “Let’s finish it.”