Indians unflappable despite challenges
The travel: Section 10 hosted the regional final, which meant the Indians had a four-hour bus ride to Northern New York, while their opponent, Madrid-Waddington only had about a 20-minute trip.
The building: SUNY-Canton's gym is in a field-house setting, definitely a difference for the Indians, used to playing in the smaller gyms of the Wasaren League.
The situation: Cambridge, one of the last eight teams standing coming into Saturday's game against the Yellowjackets, playing in a regional final — the farthest a Cambridge team had gone in 17 years — and with three freshmen in the starting lineup.
None of the Indians, freshman or otherwise, were fazed by any of it.
"I think it has to do a lot with the way [the Phillips twins] were raised," said Cambridge coach Tony Bochette. "They have also experienced a lot of basketball, playing AAU. Those games are in field-houses, with long travel, back-to-back games, so they have a lot of experience playing in that style. I don't think anyone was nervous coming up here."
As she has most of the year, freshman Sophie Phillips led the way offensively with 17 points and grabbed eight rebounds
Classmates Fiona Mooney and Lilly Phillips each scored seven, Mooney snagging 11 boards, including a handful on the offensive end, to keep possessions alive.
They have been that way all year, with both Phillips sisters scoring more than 320 points this season so far and Mooney reaching the 200-point mark in Saturday's contest.
"The freshman are unflappable, if you didn't look at the roster and see the 9 [grade level], you wouldn't know which ones were freshmen or which ones weren't," Bochette said.
As good as the young ones are, the older ones do their part too: Helen Mooney scored 15 and Bridey Nolan added 12 on four 3-pointers, hitting big shots when the Yellowjackets had hints of coming back.
"Everyone has stepped up their game in some way," Bochette said. "The seniors have come through with some incredible leadership, and they've had some really good games down the stretch."
Bochette said the team broke up the long ride from Cambridge to Canton, stopping for breakfast at the Adirondack Hotel in Long Lake.
"I'm a firm believer that sleeping in your own bed is more important than the long bus ride," said Bochette, who has been on his share of long trips as an assistant coach with the 2-time defending state champion football team. "It was a really loose bus ride and we watched them go in and come out of the locker room and you wouldn't have known we were in a regional championship. It was just another basketball game and that's a good thing."
Talking to the ninth graders after the game belied the point, these are freshmen in grade level only.
"The AAU experience helps, you're always competing against high-level competition," said Sophie Phillips. "You're ready to play against anyone and especially playing back-to-back gets you used to being out for there a long time and not getting tired."
Mooney said she felt like it was just a normal game.
"That's the thing about the playoffs so far, you'd think we'd be nervous, but it doesn't feel like [a playoff] game," Mooney said. "It's just a normal game once we get into it."
Now, the team is in the Final Four, which is played a little closer to home, at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy. The Indians are familiar with that venue, having already won the Section II title there a few weeks ago.
"At this point, everyone knows that we have something special and we have to keep it going," Bochette said.
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