By ROB JONAS
TROY – It started with a three-pointer and ended with a jubilant celebration.
Stasia Epler’s three-pointer 2:20 into the fourth quarter sparked a 14-4 run that gave Cambridge a 57-43 victory over Watkins Glen (Section 4) in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class C girls basketball final Saturday, March 16, at Hudson Valley Community College.
It’s the first state title in the program’s history, and with a starting five consisting of four sophomores and a freshman, a possible sign of things to come.
“It’s crazy. We’re not even done yet. We still have a couple of years,” said Epler, the freshman within the starting five.
The game was closely contested through the first three quarters. Cambridge built a 12-8 lead in the first quarter, but three-pointers by Danielle Leszyk and Adrienna Solomon helped Watkins Glen pull ahead 16-13 at the end of the period. Neither team led by more than three points until the third quarter, when Cambridge took a 40-35 lead. Solomon and Hannah Morse drove for layups in the final minute to pull Watkins Glen within two points of the Indians entering the fourth quarter.
The score remained 41-39 for what seemed like forever, as both teams struggled to hit their shots. Once Epler connected on her three-pointer, though, Cambridge hit the gas pedal hard. Lilly Phillips – who had difficulty getting open for shots all night – made an easy layup after her twin sister, Sophie, stole the ball off the inbounds play following Epler’s three. Fiona Mooney sank a pair of free throws, and Epler added another three-pointer to give Cambridge a 50-39 advantage.
“I knew I had to shoot it. I didn’t even think about it – I just shot it,” said Epler of the pivotal basket.
“She had the whole team fired up,” Sophie Phillips said of Epler, who finished with 14 points. “Her hitting that three gave us so much energy.”
Watkins Glen tried to get back in the game, but by that point, the three-point shots that helped the Senecas keep pace with Cambridge were no longer falling. Additionally, Cambridge started pulling down defensive rebounds with regularity in the second half after allowing Watkins Glen to score eight second-chance points in the first half.
“We kept them from getting good looks [at three-pointers] like they did in the first half,” said Cambridge head coach Robert Phillips.
Sophie Phillips was named the state tournament’s most valuable player after leading Cambridge with 24 points and 17 rebounds in the championship game. McKayla McLenithan also came through for the Indians with 10 points and four boards. Solomon and Leszyk each had 11 points for Watkins Glen.
“We knew they would be a very good team,” said coach Phillips. “We just kept pulling away and grinding it … like we’re capable of doing.”
There will be talk of more state championship runs in Cambridge’s future. For now, the Indians are enjoying winning their first title.
“It feels amazing. We put in so much work in practice and in the offseason, and to have it pay off is incredible,” said Sophie Phillips.
“Tony Bochette, last year’s head coach, said it best. He said that team laid the foundation for the house,” said coach Phillips. “I think we just finished building that house tonight.”
Photos by Rob Jonas. Copyright 2019 by Capital Region HS Sports.