Cambridge finishes the job, wins Wasaren title
MECHANICVILLE, N.Y. — The Cambridge girls basketball team has a simple motto this year: finish the job.
The Indians failed to finish the job in last season's Wasaren League championship game and sought to change that narrative Monday night taking on Tamarac with the 2018-19 league title on the line.
Monday night's game mirrored a lot of what was seen last winter when the teams met for the league title. Cambridge jumped out to a huge early advantage before Tamarac slowly but surely found its way back into the contest.
On that occasion, the Bengals pulled out the win, but this year, the Indians re-wrote the ending, as they held off Tamarac for a 56-48 win and Wasaren League championship.
Cambridge jumped out to a 24-6 lead after one quarter and looked to be in total control of the game. Four total 3's made by Lilly Phillips, Stasia Epler and a pair by Ruth Nolan paced the Indians as the Bengals were stifled on their own end and coughed up the ball on possession after possession.
Tamarac leading-scorers, Emily Erickson and Syrita Faraj were held to just two points apiece in the quarter.
The pair woke up in the second and led the Bengals to a two-point advantage in the frame, cutting the Cambridge lead to 16 by halftime.
Indians coach Bob Phillips knows how deadly Tamarac can be and how quickly they can turn the tide of a game. He knew even with a big halftime lead that the game wasn't over.
"We weathered their storm. They're a tough team down the stretch," Bob Phillips said. "We knew they would make a run and they did. It was just about making sure we held on and making sure we had more points than them when the final buzzer sounds."
After a dominant effort in the third from Tamarac, outscoring the Indians 17-7, the Bengals continued to inch closer in the fourth, cutting the lead to four at one point.
Cambridge knew at this crucial point that it had to flip the script back in its own advantage.
"We know our offense comes from our defense. We had to get a steal and force them to become uncomfortable," Nolan said. "When they got it down to four, we knew we needed to score there and get a stop."
The Indians responded in that moment and made 3's from Lilly Phillips, Nolan and Epler paced Cambridge to a 10-0 run to extend the lead back to double digits.
The Indians finished the job from there en route to the league championship.
Lilly Phillips led the way for Cambridge with 17 points, while Epler and Nolan added 16 and 14 points apiece.
The Bengals did a great job keeping Sophie Phillips in check, as she only scored seven in the contest.
With an wrist injury to starting forward Fiona Mooney last week, the Indians knew coming into the game that others would need to fill those holes and provide production with sophomore big out of action.
The efforts of Epler and Nolan, around the constant presence of Lilly and Sophie Phillips, made a huge difference in Cambridge pulling the win.
Nolan hadn't started a game since December, before making the start Monday night.
"[Ruth] had a couple tough weeks back in December and she hadn't been starting. She was huge for us tonight. She stepped up and hit big shots," Bob Phillips said. "Stasia, who is a freshman, hit huge shots. She's been shooting well. I can't say enough about their composure down the stretch."
Both Nolan and Epler knocked down four three-point shots in the game.
"When Fiona got hurt, we all knew we would have to step up and come together," Nolan said. "At that point, I was like 'I need to shoot this. That's important for the team.' Even if it doesn't go in we can get the rebound and get the lay up. This game gives us a lot more confidence on both defense and offense."
For much of the season, the Indians have had a starting lineup composed of four sophomores and one freshman. That remained the case Monday with Nolan taking Mooney's spot in the lineup.
These girls have been playing basketball with each other for years and that chemistry shows on the court.
"We've played together since the fourth grade," Nolan said. "It's great to be with the same group of girls your whole career."
"Because those girls have played a lot of basketball, they have a lot of composure and are used to playing good teams," Bob Phillips said. "They're used to playing in full gyms with really big crowds. This only helps moving forward with sectionals. They don't get rattled."
Erickson had a game-high 21 points for Tamarac in the losing effort.
The Wasaren League, in itself, is a gauntlet night in and night out and moving forward games like Monday's will only better both squads heading into sectionals.
"Our league prepares us for sectionals and beyond. The tough thing is that sectionals is comparable to our league," Bob Phillips said. "There's anywhere from 18-22 teams in any given year that are tough in Class C. I'm glad Tamarac is a B and Mechanicville is a B. I wish a few others were too."
Cambridge improves to 17-1, while the Bengals fall to 14-4.
Both teams await their sectional seeding set to be announced Wednesday.
Adam Aucoin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed at @AAucoin_Banner on Twitter.
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