Veteran Owego team holds off Tornado in Pennysaver final

Girls’ Basketball

Norwich Pennysaver Tournament

Owego 58, Norwich 48

Norwich 34, New Hartford 28

NORWICH – In all the measurables, especially size, experience, and depth, Owego had a decisive edge over Norwich in the finals of the 32nd Annual Norwich Pennysaver Tournament. The Indians were forced to lean heavily on all of those perceived advantages in Saturday night’s championship game ending the Purple Tornado’s three-year string of titles.

Tournament MVP, Rachel Merrill, scored 17 points and had five blocked shots. More than that, the 6-foot-3 senior had Norwich’s starting front line in foul trouble the entire second half. Fellow Owego senior Jill Silvanic ably offset Merrill’s inside presence draining a pair of three-pointers in the fourth quarter to help create a welcomed cushion.

“I really cannot say enough about this group of kids,” said Norwich coach Josh Bennett. “We came up with a game plan, and they executed it to perfection. Obviously, they have a 6-foot-3 kid with great moves, and we didn’t match up. She got us into foul trouble, and when we doubled down, Silvanic was able to get open for threes. We couldn’t scramble back quick enough.”

Owego returned its front line from last year, and had most of the components back from a club that beat Norwich by 10 points this past February. With Norwich already in foul trouble in the first half, Merrill and her younger sister Emily scored the Indians’ last eight points of the first half to give their team a 27-20 halftime lead.

Less than a minute into the second half, Norwich erased that deficit. NHS junior Jenni Borfitz had three driving layups – the second a three-point play – as the young Purple capitalized on two Owego turnovers. Until the final three minutes of the game, Owego found itself in a much tougher dogfight than most would have expected. “I was really proud of my team for scrapping in a game that could have gotten out of control,” Bennett said.

Norwich tied the game that one time, and gained its first lead of the game late in the third. Borfitz drained a three in the corner off a Breanna Cashman pass making it 38-36 with 1:15 left.

Just 12 seconds later, Owego moved back in front on Ciarra Bodnar’s trey. Norwich led for the last time following a Cashman jumper in the lane, but Rachel Merrill erased that with two free throws in the final 20 seconds of the quarter.

Other than Silvanic’s two threes in the last quarter Rachel Merrill bucketed six points, and Emily Merrill scored five.

Borfitz scored 14 of her 15 points after halftime, and Cashman chipped in with 11. “Owego is a high caliber team, and probably a couple levels higher than what we saw the previous two games,” Bennett said. “Our kids responded perfectly to the challenge.”

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