BINGHAMTON – Norwich was a tad too charitable in giving the ball up to Maine-Endwell Thursday night, and a big third-quarter run by the Spartans created much-needed breathing room in a 55-50 win for M-E in the Section IV Class A championship game at the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena.
It was the third straight Section IV title for Maine-Endwell under head coach Sonny Spera. Freshman Victoria Dean went 5-for-6 from the foul line in the last 27 seconds to help secure the M-E win, and when the Tornado were on the cusp of overtaking the Spartans, senior Lauren Kozlowski buried a pair of clutch three-pointers.
“Those were big-time shots from a great player,” said Norwich coach Josh Bennett of Kozlowski’s threes. “The first one we were probably a step or two late getting to her, but the second one we were right there. She made those shots at a time of the game when it’s not easy.”
Norwich found itself down by 11 points in the third quarter after M-E strung together 10 straight points to lead 36-25. Dean had a steal and layup, Kozlowski put back an offensive rebound, and Kozlowski assisted Cara Cawley on a layup to highlight the spurt.
Just before that run, Norwich pulled within one point after Bryn Loomis’ pull-up jumper and Hannah Runyon’s three-point play with just under six minutes to play in the third. The next five minutes, Norwich did little right committing seven of its 22 turnovers. “I think the pressure of their defense was at a level we weren’t mentally prepared for,” Bennett said. “They really get after you on defense. I don’t think there’s been a game all year where our guards had such a tough time turning the corner. In our offense, if you can’t turn the corner and make a decision with the basketball without losing it or having it flop around, it’s tough.”
Still, Norwich found a way to whittle down the margin. NHS started the fourth on a 9-3 run hitting 7-for-8 from the foul line. The only interruption in that scoring barrage was Kozlowski’s three-pointer from just to the right of the top of the key that she buried on an out of bounds play.
A pair of free throws from Runyon made it 41-38, but Kozlowski took dead aim from the right corner stroking in her third trey of the game to double that advantage. Emily Birchall followed that with a driving baseline layup making it 46-38.
“I like the team to share the ball, make the extra pass and the extra rotation,” said Maine-Endwell coach Sonny Spera. “When we don’t, you see that we gave up some easy ones. No lead is safe with the way Norwich shoots it and attacks the basket.”
Runyon scored on a layup putting back Loomis’ missed three, Hailey Dietrich added two free throws after she was fouled on a fast break, and Dietrich’s driving layup pulled Norwich to within 46-44.
Cawley scored her second basket of the game for M-E, and it proved crucial as Norwich’s Runyon put back another miss keeping Norwich within two.
Norwich had one final time to tie or take the lead. Following a defensive stop, Norwich worked the ball inside to Loomis, who had her shot blocked with under a minute left. Maine-Endwell was 17-for-31 from the foul line for the game, but was a rock-solid 7-for-8 with the game on the line.
“Norwich is a great team,” Spera said. “We had to play great to beat them tonight.”..