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Section 3 girls hoops: South Jeff falls to Utica Notre Dame


SYRACUSE — The tears streamed down the face of Austin Stevens and her South Jefferson teammates as the buzzer sounded to end the Section 3 Class B girls basketball championship game on Thursday at the Carrier Dome.

But it wasn’t because the top-seeded Spartans had just suffered their first loss of the season — a difficult 54-45 overtime defeat at the hands of No. 7 Utica Notre Dame.

It was because the journey had come to an end.

“It’s not the loss and it’s never going to be the loss. The hardest part is always saying goodbye to your friends. It always will be,” said Stevens, a junior who scored a game-high 18 points and grabbed 13 rebounds.

South Jefferson ended its season at 19-1, one win shy of its second straight sectional title and 10th of the last 12 years.

Spartans’ senior Zoey Smith drained a 3-point field goal with 30 seconds left to send the game into overtime tied at 43 points apiece.

“There’s a kid that has worked and worked and worked and has struggled to get playing time in our program,” South Jefferson coach Pat Bassett said. “And finally she’s worked her way into the starting lineup these last 10 games. I’m proud of her for having the effort and doing what she did tonight.”

South Jefferson trailed by six points with a minute and a half left in regulation — the first time it has trailed in the fourth quarter all season.

“I’m proud of my kids for battling back, we haven’t been behind in a game this year, and the courage we showed, I’m so proud,” Bassett said.

But in the extra period, Utica Notre Dame’s leading scorer and Division I prospect, junior Emily Durr, took over. She scored seven of her 15 points in overtime, supplying all but two of the Jugglers’ points in the extra period.

“After we had a seven-point lead, in my mind I was like ‘We can not give this up,’” Durr said. “I need to step up my level, play as hard as I can and just make a couple shots for us. That’s all we needed.”

Utica Notre Dame, which will play the Section 4 champion in a state quarterfinal game on March 9 at Onondaga Community College, made a run to take the lead in regulation with Durr on the bench in foul trouble.

South Jefferson senior Brooke VanCoughnett drew a charge on Durr to give her the fourth foul, and Durr left the game with 1 minute, 15 seconds left in the third quarter with her team trailing 29-26.

Durr didn’t re-enter the game until there was 1:16 left to play in the fourth quarter, at which point the Jugglers led 42-38.

Anari Harris, whom Bassett said “played like a champion,” scored 11 of her 17 points in the fourth to lift the Jugglers (17-5).

“Utica Notre Dame showed that they were better today,” said VanCoughnett, who provided eight rebounds and 12 assists. “Their other players (besides Durr) made shots. We tried our best, that’s all we can ask for.”

“They had a lot of players step up today,” Stevens added. “We had a lot of players step up too, but it wasn’t quite good enough. We played our hardest and that’s all that matters.”

Clarissa Perry added 10 points, all in the first half, for South Jefferson. She made a pair of 3-pointers to finish with at least 50 for the second straight season. She made a total of 13 threes during the team’s three sectional games.

Perry and Stevens were each named to the All-Tournament Team afterward. Durr was named the Section 3 Class B Most Valuable Player.

The Spartans will lose three players to graduation — Smith, VanCoughnett, and Lucy Smoot.

“The hardest part is always saying goodbye to those kids,” Bassett said. “Brooke VanCoughnett has done so many things for this team over the years, so many little things that don’t even show up. It’s always tough.”

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