TROY — When the Shenendehowa girls’ basketball team met Saratoga Springs for the first time this season on Feb. 11 in Clifton Park, the Plainsmen headed to halftime riding high with a 10-point lead, only to have Dolly Cairns and the Blue Streaks storm back and swipe a three-point win and, eventually, the Suburban Council championship.
When Shenendehowa headed to the locker room at halftime of Saturday’s Section II Class AA championship game nursing an eight-point cushion, the Plainsmen were determined not to let history repeat itself.
“We really harped on not being satisfied with what we had,” Shenendehowa junior Meghan Huerter said. “We knew that they were going to come back.”
Sure enough, Saratoga Springs came back. This time, the Plainsmen survived the scare, holding on for a 60-56 win and a second straight Section II title.
“It was very scary,” said Shenendehowa sophomore Jillian Huerter, who came off the bench to score a game-high 16 points. “We trusted each other. We knew we could do this.”
Shenendehowa (No. 2, 22-1) led by as many as 16 points in the first half and was up by 11 points with 2:56 left in the fourth quarter before Saratoga (No. 1, 21-2) made its final, furious rally.
Cairns, hounded by double teams and fierce defense from Jillian Huerter and Kaitlyn Watrobski throughout the night, got loose to hit a 3-pointer that pulled Saratoga within 57-56 with 12.7 seconds to play.
After Meghan Huerter split a pair of free throws for a 58-56 lead, Cairns knifed through the Shenendehowa defense and pulled up for a 3-pointer that would’ve given the Blue Streaks the lead, but the frustrated senior star’s shot was off the mark.
“I wasn’t in rhythm,” Cairns said. “Just trying to force something, trying to get it up.”
“I thought it was in,” said Jillian Huerter, who was watching from the bench after fouling out earlier in the fourth quarter. “She’s a great player, obviously. … We lost her on that play. It’s good that she missed it.”
Meghan Huerter iced the game and the title with two more free throws. The junior was 5 of 6 at the line in the final 30 seconds and finished with 11 points en route to being named the tournament’s most valuable player.
Along with Cairns, Saratoga Springs got 11 points apiece from Abby Ray, Tash Chudy and Katie Claeson, plus 10 from Lauren Patnode. But, it was containing Cairns — who scored all 17 of her points in the second half of Saratoga’s Feb. 11 win against the Plainsmen — that concerned Shenendehowa coach Joe Murphy.
“We had a different game plan the first time and it wasn’t too successful,” Murphy said. “We just said to ourselves, ‘Let’s get back to what we do and play man-to-man.’ We did throw doubles at her, but it was great team defense.”
Shenendehowa played most of the game without senior guard Simone Walker, who exited with an apparent left ankle injury early in the second quarter.
The Plainsmen responded thanks to their depth. Jillian Huerter stepped into Walker’s shoes at point guard and came up with several huge baskets en route to her 16 points, while Watrobski chipped in a dozen points.
“They don’t care who scores points, and it showed tonight,” Murphy said. “Different kids stepped up throughout the entire night.”
“They just persevered,” he added. “That’s what this team did all year. They just get through it and really played well as a team. Next kid up.”
Murphy didn’t even mind that his team got a bit overzealous in its postgame celebration. He was right there with them.
“I don’t do this kind of stuff often with them, jump and down,” he said. “I told them, I’m so proud of them. They can douse me all they want. They deserve it.”
Up next for Shenendehowa is a regional final this coming Saturday at 7 p.m. at HVCC against Section III champion Cicero-North Syracuse.
“March is the best month in basketball,” Meghan Huerter said. “[We want to] keep going and keep playing as deep into March as we can.”
Shenendehowa 20 7 12 21 — 60
Saratoga Springs 6 13 15 22 — 56
Shenendehowa scoring: M. Huerter 2-7-11, Carpenter 2-3-7, Watrobski 4-3-12, Stuart 2-2-6, Walker 1-0-2, J. Huerter 5-5-16, Lee 1-2-4, Carey 1-0-2. Saratoga Springs scoring: Cairns 2-6-11, Ray 3-2-11, Chudy 3-4-11, Patnode 3-4-10, Claeson 4-0-11, Carminucci 1-0-2. Scoring totals: Shenendehowa 18-22-60, Saratoga Springs 16-16-56.
Reach Adam Shinder at [email protected] or @Adam_Shinder on Twitter.