By Rob Centorani
---- — ONEONTA — When a team features the second highest scorer in Section Four basketball history, it’s easy to overlook what that squad is doing on the defensive end of the floor.
But a strange thing happened on the way to Franklin’s third straight Tri-Valley League girls championship Saturday at Oneonta State. The Purple Devils defended at a high level and that, as much as anything, led to a 45-27 victory over Milford.
Sure, standout point guard Jordan Beers scored 20 points and fellow senior Marisa Cawley powered her way to 18 more, but this unbeaten Franklin squad had a different look to it.
Even last season as it compiled a 19-1 record that included the program’s first sectional title, defense almost appeared to be a nuisance at times. It was something that had to be done until the Purple Devils regained possession and the real fun could resume.
“We’re all about our defense now,” said Cawley, a much more confident and smooth player at both ends of the floor this season. “We’re more compact in the paint and we’re a lot better this year on defense.”
The numbers support Cawley.
Franklin permitted opponents to score 45 points or more six times last season, including a season-ending 51-46 loss to Oriskany in a Class D state quarterfinal. The Purple Devils held foes to 30 points or fewer five times a season ago.
This season, one team has scored more than 45 points and the Purple Devils have held opponents to 30 points or fewer nine times.
“It makes a difference for us because we know if we’re having a poor shooting night, our defense will step up,” said Beers, whose 2,355 varsity points are second in Section Four history to 2011 Harpursville graduate Hannah Kimmel, who finished with 2,692.
Perhaps the play that best describes Franklin’s commitment to defense came with 2 minutes, 15 seconds left in the first half. Milford’s Emilie Mertz attempted what initially looked like an uncontested layup, but Cawley slid to her left before swatting Mertz’s shot off the court.
Cawley followed the ball’s path to the sideline, where she ran into Beers and received a congratulatory shove from her teammate.
“Cawley’s athletic as crazy,” Milford coach Jim Weir said.
Franklin (16-0) used a box-and-one during the first two-and-a-half quarters, with Mariah McNeilly shadowing Addy Lawson’s every offensive step. Lawson, a sophomore, came into the night averaging 19.2 points. She attempted five shots, making one in scoring two points before being carried off the court by teammates with 4:53 left in the third quarter after injuring her right foot.
Lawson didn’t return, but Weir said he’s hopeful she’ll be ready when the fifth-seeded Wildcats host No. 12 Gilboa in a Section Four Class D Tournament opener Tuesday.
Thereafter, Franklin switched between active 3-2 and 2-3 zones. By halftime, Milford made 6 of 30 shots and finished 10-for-53 from the field.
“We want to do three things: Control the paint, contest shots and have a one-shot mentality,” Franklin coach Mike Dutcher said. “The last 10 games of the year, those three things have held true.”
Offensively, Beers and Cawley scored all but three of Franklin’s 29 first-half points.
En route to hitting her first four shots from the field, Cawley scored inside off a pass from Jessica Downin 28 seconds into play to give the Purple Devils the lead for keeps, at 2-0. Beers hit a 12-foot pull-up jumper in transition to make it 4-0 1:05 into play.
When Cawley scored on a putback with 2:50 left in the first quarter, Franklin led, 15-4.
Milford (13-5) answered with a 7-2 run that included five points by Serena Chase, who hit a three-pointer and capped the spurt with driving layup to make it 17-11 with 29 seconds left in the quarter.
Then Franklin scored the next 10 points while holding the Wildcats scoreless for 6 1/2 minutes.
Beers made a putback with 2 seconds left in the first quarter. Her pull-up jumper two minutes into the third quarter made it 23-11. Cawley then scored on a baseline drive before hitting a layup in transition off a pass from Beers.
Downin capped the run on a free throw 2:33 before halftime that gave Franklin a 27-11 lead.
A 12-2 spurt to start the third quarter that included six points from Beers and four from Cawley made it a 25-point game.
With Beers averaging an area-best 26.9 points and Cawley contributing 17.1, Franklin has a dynamic 1-2 punch.
“She’s an outside shooter and I’m a post player, so we’re getting points from all over the place,” Cawley said. “When we’re on together, it’s unbelievable.”
Third-seeded Franklin will begin defense of its sectional title Tuesday at home against 14th-seeded Delhi.
“We’re always confident,” Cawley said.
Franklin 45, Milford 27
Saturday at Oneonta State
MILFORD (13-5): Maddie Zenir 1-17 0-2 2, Emilie Mertz 1-8 0-2 2, Kaley Chase 1-2 0-0 3, Taylor Olmsted 2-6 2-2 6, Sadie Hogan 0-1 0-0 0, Serena Chase 3-7 0-1 8, Mataiah Water 0-3 2-2 2, Addy Lawson 1-5 0-0 2, Dawn Simmons 0-1 0-0 0, Rukiye Henderson 0-1 0-0 0, Abby Freer 1-2 0-0 2. TOTALS: 10-53 4-9 27.
FRANKLIN (16-0): Jessica Downin 1-2 1-2 3, Paige Fairchilds 2-3 0-2 4, Marisa Cawley 9-21 0-0 18, Keri Schmidt 0-1 0-0 0, Mariah McNeilly 0-6 0-0 0, Elizabeth Neibanck 0-0 0-0 0, Jordan Beers 9-21 2-4 20, Mara Stalter 0-3 0-0 0, Mallory Jordan 0-1 0-0 0. TOTALS: 21-58 3-8 45.
Milford 11 3 6 7 - 27
Franklin 19 10 12 4 - 45
Three-point field goals: M 3 (S. Chase 2, K. Chase).