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03/04/03 Greece Athena holds off Fairport to win AA title

By Jeff DiVeronica
Democrat and Chronicle

(March 4, 2003) - They weren’t ready for this last season.

But the Greece Athena girls basketball players, runners-up a year ago in the Section V Tournament, gave themselves another shot at the golden ring and this time they didn’t let it slip through their fingers.

The second-seeded Trojans let No. 1 Fairport fight back from an 18-point deficit, but Athena held on for a 40-38 victory Monday night at Blue Cross Arena at the War Memorial.

The Class AA Tournament championship game is the school’s fifth, but its first since consecutive crowns in 1994-95.

Athena (20-3) takes a 13-game winning streak to Wednesday’s 7:30 p.m. state qualifier against Hilton (14-9) at Webster Schroeder.

"This feels 100 times better than last year," said forward Katie Pauly, one of four senior starters who returned. "But after we lost we worked really hard to get back here, so I think we deserve it."

Sophomore forward Corrine Keller, the other returnee to the starting lineup, was named tournament MVP with 14 points and senior Lyndsay Dalton added 10, including a huge basket with 31 seconds left.

JAMIE GERMANO

Greece Athena’s Katie Pauly, right, joins teammate Lauren Sopko after the Trojans subdued a Fairport rally to win the Section V Class AA girls basketball championship at Blue Cross Arena Monday night.

"I felt so much better this year," Keller said. "I’m more mature now and my teammates are, too. I owe a lot to them. This is the best feeling."

Fairport was led by senior forwards Liz Hahn (12 points, 12 rebounds) and Lindsay Ellis (11 points, 10 rebounds), who played inspired in the second half. The Red Raiders had a desperate chance to tie it after the Athena bench was hit with a technical foul for running on the court in early celebration.

Ellis made both free throws to make it 40-38, but with only one second left from midcourt the Raiders couldn’t do much. Sabrina Boykin’s heave from 25 feet was well short.

"Give Athena credit," said Fairport coach Kermit Moyer. "They executed their game plan very well."

Athena also handed Fairport (21-2) its other loss, 55-49, in the Monroe County Tournament on Feb. 11. Fairport won the first meeting, 58-47.

Athena’s plan was to spread the floor to use its overall quickness against Fairport’s man-to-man defense. It worked, as the Trojans led 28-12 at halftime. Keller was a tough matchup for Ellis, penetrating and pulling up a few times for jump shots. A 14-0 run produced a 16-6 lead.

Hahn’s free throws in the second quarter cut it to 16-10, but Athena scored the next 12 points, including back-to-back 3-pointers by Keller, who was given too much room, and Pauly, who burned the Raiders on the only trip they played zone.

Fairport, meanwhile, shied from its strength down low. It missed 11 straight shots, mostly jumpers, and made just 4-for-23 in the half.

"We had some some solid looks, but we didn’t get to the basket enough," Moyer said.

In the third quarter, though, the Red Raiders remembered what got them to a fifth title game in seven years. Hahn and Ellis went hard to the offensive boards and Fairport outscored Athena 18-5 to trail 33-30 heading into the fourth quarter.

"They were just coming at us," Dalton said.

Said Moyer, "We just played harder (on defense)."

Neither team scored in the first 3:47 of the fourth and then three clutch plays helped Athena hang on.

Keller sank a pull-up jumper with 3:05 to go. Point guard Lauren Sopko, a 55 percent shooter, made two free throws at 1:46 for a 37-32 lead and after two Hahn baskets made it 37-36, during a timeout Athena designed a play for Dalton. She ran off a baseline screen by Lyndsey Gallina, caught it on the block and hit a turnaround jumper with 31 seconds left for a 39-36 lead. After a Fairport turnover, Pauly added a free throw to make it 40-36.

"I feel pretty fortunate," to have won after scoring only 12 second-half points, said first-year Athena coach Mike Butler, "but we’ll take it anyway we can get it."

E-mail address: jdiveron@DemocratandChronicle.com