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Basketball

Finishing school

Taylor and Cannon fuel O’Neill OT win for first-ever victory over Sullivan West

By RICHARD A. ROSS

LAKE HUNTINGTON, NY — There’s a first time for everything and for the Lady Raiders of James I. O’Neill, their stunning 55-48 overtime victory over Sullivan West on January 9 proved that maxim as they registered their first-ever win over the Lady Bulldogs.

With their come-from-behind victory, O’Neill threw down the gauntlet, altering the existing pecking order in Division IV by overtaking a team that has historically owned them.

Burke remains atop of the division at 3-0, having beaten O’Neill, Liberty and Fallsburg. Sullivan West had its recent appointment with the defending Section Nine champs postponed due to weather. Following their win over the Lady Bulldogs, O’Neill’s hopes of grabbing a share of the division title were strongly bolstered.

O’Neill’s late surging victory was fueled by great play from guards Caroline Cannon and Tiana Taylor. The duo combined for 42 of their team’s 55 points on the night. Cannon fire was comprised of the junior guard’s 18 second-half points, including a game-tying bucket with 1:25 that capped off a late 9-0 run to erase Sullivan’s game-long lead. She netted an overtime three-pointer that availed the Lady Raiders the lead.

O’Neill also got a Taylor-made performance from its senior point guard (Tiana), who scored seven of her game-high 22 points in OT, which followed six in the fourth quarter.

Both ladies overcame early struggles by keeping their focus. Cannon had only two points in the first half and had missed seven of her first eight free-throw attempts. But coming up big when it counted, she hit three of her last four in the game.

Taylor had canned a three in the early going as she helped her team get out to a 7-2 first-quarter lead. Her ongoing attempts at downtown shots seemed to cost her team, as she missed her next six attempts until crunch time.

That’s when she hit a crucial one in OT to propel her team to a 49-45 margin after Sullivan West’s Katrina Graby had cut the lead to one with a pair of free throws. Taylor added to the lead with a subsequent bucket. A late basket by Cory Trainor and Taylor’s two of her final four free throws iced the cake. O’Neill outscored Sullivan West 12-7 in the extra frame to garner the win.

Despite O’Neill’s ghastly 8-for-25 performance from the line, they canned seven of those eight points from the stripe in the fourth quarter and OT. By comparison, Sullivan West, which was 10 for 20 on the night, canned only four of ten over the same time period. The most dramatic of those misses came with the game tied at 43-all with 26.5 seconds remaining.

In big games, it’s all about finishing.

After Cannon had tied it at 41-all but missed the potential go-ahead free throw, she got her own rebound, missed and Taylor put it back up for the 43-41 lead. Graby raced ahead and tied it again at 43-all and the Lady Westies looked like they might just pull this one out of the burgeoning fire as they defended well and had O’Neill down to just nine seconds on the shot clock when Raider coach Kevin Schoepfer called for a time out.

The Bulldogs stole the inbounds pass and Lindsey Bauer drove to the rim and was fouled. As both teams were in the double bonus at the time, Bauer was granted two from the stripe but missed both. When O’Neill failed to score on its final possession, the game went into overtime.

Having come back from the dead, O’Neill emerged into the OT confident and loose. On the contrary, Sullivan West appeared tight and tired. Though Graby controlled the tip over Taylor like she had done at the game’s outset over Margaret Suchan, the Westies couldn’t convert. Instead, it was Cannon’s three that was the opening salvo. O’Neill led from there to the end.

The Lady Bulldogs led 10-9 at the end of the first quarter, which they finished with a 6-0 run. They led 23-17 at the half and 34-25 heading into the final frame, but there had been ominous signs that the lead could be in danger, notably their inability to take care of the ball. Weakened at the guard position by the graduation of Jennifer Pitz and the ongoing ineligibility of Rachel Houghtaling, the Lady Bulldogs were victimized by O’Neill’s ball pressure, which led to many tie-ups and more O’Neill possessions.

In the first half, Sullivan West turned it over 12 times to O’Neill’s four. That tendency continued, leading to a ghastly 23 turnovers as compared to O’Neill’s nine on the night. Were it not for the Lady Raiders’ dreadful performance from the free-throw line, this game would have undoubtedly been closer all the way through.

Sullivan West got a great game from Katrina Graby, who pulled down 18 rebounds and scored a team-high 20 points. Joining her in double figures were Vicky Argueta with 13 and Lindsey Murphy with 10, all positive signs. With Houghtaling set to return as early as next week, things may improve, but that remains to be seen. Houghtaling saw major time in the backcourt during the Lady Westies’s powerful summer outing.

Coach Ron Bernhardt characterized this as one of his most difficult defeats in his career, but he expressed pride in his team’s effort. Grabbing a share of the division title, something his 18-3 team did a year ago, became a more difficult challenge with this loss. On the flip side, a win over an O’Neill team that came in at 7-2 and 2-1 in the division would have provided his team with a needed jolt of confidence.

An exuberant Taylor summed up the win: “I have confidence in my team and in myself. We never got down. We’ve been looking forward to this game, just like we’re looking forward to playing Burke on our court. Hopefully, we can get a win against them like we did here tonight,” she said.

Schoepfer offered effusive praise for his 8-2 (3-1 OCIAA) victorious Lady Raiders.

Visit riverreportersports.com for an album of game photos.

TRR photo by Richard A. Ross
Sullivan West’s Katrina Graby scores the first bucket of the night. Graby had an excellent game. She led her team with 20 points and pulled down 18 rebounds, but her teammates struggled to get her the ball in crucial times. (Click for larger version)
TRR photo by Richard A. Ross
James I. O’Neill senior point guard Tiana Taylor scores two points late and helps lead her team to its first-ever win over Division IV rival Sullivan West. Taylor had a game-high 22 points with seven in overtime, including a key three pointer. (Click for larger version)