ONEONTA — Milford captains Addy Lawson and Emilie Mertz said the goal all along for the 2014-15 girls basketball season was to get back to the Tri-Valley League championship game.
Once the Wildcats got there Saturday at Oneonta State, they put on a show.
“It feels amazing,” said Lawson, whose game-high 22 points led Milford to a 40-30 crossover defeat of Laurens to mark the Wildcats’ first T-V title since 2005. “This was such a huge accomplishment for us.”
Milford (15-4) took a 13-12 lead after one quarter, but defense stole the spotlight for the next two. Although the Wildcats scored 11 points over the second and third quarters, they actually extended their lead after each period. Milford outscored Laurens, 8-5, in the second quarter and followed with a 3-2 edge in the third to take a 24-19 advantage into the final period.
“Our defense was huge tonight,” Milford coach Jim Weir said. “Mertz was all over the place, Rileigh (Griffiths) was when she was in there, and Abby Freer too. They all played great.”
Said Laurens coach Dean Marble: “Our defense was pretty good out there. That’s something that has kept us in games all year.”
Milford opened the final quarter with a 5-0 run as Savannah Eckberg made a turnaround jumper from the elbow and Lawson hit a three-pointer.
Lawson was soon tagged with her fourth foul, during a struggle for a loose ball, but it didn’t change her approach one bit. She and Mertz forced a turnover on the next possession to set up Freer for a layup that made it 31-22 with 5 minutes, 10 seconds remaining.
“I went out aggressive still, but I knew I had to play smart as well,” Lawson, who had nine steals and four assists, said of playing with four fouls.
Point guard Rachelle Soucia scored from underneath in between free throws by Claire Fraser and Lindsey Laing to pull Laurens (14-5) to 31-26 with a little less than four minutes to go.
The Wildcats came right back with another Lawson three, then forced a shot-clock violation with 3:08 left.
“I think the biggest play of the game was that shot-clock violation we forced,” Weir said. “That was huge for us.”
Fraser scored inside to make it a two-possession game, but after two Lawson free throws and a Laurens turnover, it was too little too late for the Leopards.
“We gave the ball away too much,” Marble said. “That’s really what hurt us tonight; we had too many turnovers.
You’ve got to protect the ball. That, and the fact that I’m never going to beat (Jim Weir).”
Fraser capped Laurens’ scoring by hitting a baseline shot with 22 seconds left as the senior guard finished with a varsity- and team-high 18 points. Lawson made two free throws with 6 seconds left to end it.
“I was very pleased with Claire Fraser’s play tonight,” Marble said. “She acted like a true senior captain. She stepped up when we needed her to. She’s just a great kid and she played her heart out tonight.”
Fraser stood out early, scoring 10 of the Leopards’ 12 points in the first quarter. Laing’s putback with 2:34 to go in the period gave Laurens its first lead, at 10-9. Laing also hit a three to tie it at 15 early in the second quarter, but Milford never trailed after the first period.
Milford’s Taylor Olmsted grabbed eight rebounds. Laing, Fraser and Courtney Sherry each had seven for Laurens.
“This is the third time we’ve ever gone to the Tri-Valley championship,” said Marble, whose program also made appearances in 2010 and 2002 but lost both. “I’m only losing two seniors and I’m very excited to have everyone else back next year.”
This year isn’t over for either team yet, though, as Milford and Laurens will compete in the Section Four Class D Tournament next week.
“We have to take it one game at a time,” Lawson said. “We need to focus on what’s ahead of us, but not look too far.”
Milford 40, Laurens 30
Tri-Valley League Championship
Saturday at Oneonta State
LAURENS (14-5): Rachelle Soucia 1 0-0 2, Marion Pollock 0 0-0 0, Lindsey Laing 2 1-2 6, Kayla Johnson 0 0-0 0, Taylor Kessler 1 0-2 2, Courtney Sherry 1 0-2 2, Katie Dobler 0 0-0 0, Lynzi Poje 0 0-0 0, Claire Fraser 8 2-4 18. TOTALS: 13 3-10 30.
MILFORD (15-4): Emilie Mertz 0 0-0 0, Rileigh Griffiths 2 0-0 4, Taylor Olmsted 2 0-2 4, Savannah Eckberg 2 2-4 0, Mataiah Waters 0 0-0 0, Addy Lawson 7 5-8 22, Dawn Simmons 0 0-0 0, Abby Freer 2 0-0 4. TOTALS: 15 7-14 40.
Laurens ..... 12 5 2 11 - 30
Milford ..... 13 8 3 16 - 40
Three-point field goals: L 1 (Laing); M 3 (Lawson 3).