SYRACUSE — The Cooperstown girls basketball team is used to overcoming adversity. That came in handy Feb. 28 in the Section III Class C final at the Carrier Dome.
“I think every single game we go in with that mindset of, ‘oh crap, this is gonna be hard, we gotta put it all out there,’” Hawkeye senior Kate Trosset said. “Every single game, it’s just the same mentality.”
Fourth-seeded Cooperstown needed that mentality against rival Little Falls, staving off repeated challenges from the Mounties to win, 54-45, and claim the section crown for the first time since 2015-16, and fourth time in seven years.
“We’ve been grinding, and these kids have been in and around the program,” Cooperstown coach Mike Niles said. “It’s very flattering. For a moment I was emotional, don’t tell my wife.”
The challenge was made obvious in the first quarter, as second-seeded Little Falls used an 11-2 run in the first quarter to erase an early 6-2 Cooperstown advantage. Rebounding and inside scoring, led by nine points from Alexis Perrone in the period, put the Mounties up, 15-10, after one.
“Our average height is maybe 5-6, 5-7, maybe,” Trosset said. “So every game we just treat it like we are playing the same game on a different court, and we are just gonna play our game and what comes of it, comes of it.”
Cooperstown responded, not for the last time, in the second quarter as Trosset scored five points and dished out two assists to start a 17-8 run over the course of the frame. At the break, the Hawkeyes led, 27-23.
Little Falls fought back again in the third, employing a 8-3 run to open the quarter and take a 34-32 lead. The Mounties defense held the Hawkeyes to just five points through the first five minutes of the period, and could have had a lead larger than two if not for a scrappy effort on the defensive end by Cooperstown.
“We realize that even if we are gonna blow somebody out, we are only gonna be at 55 or 58,” Niles said. “We know we want to get back and keep people in front of us and play help defense.”
Baskets from Emilie Perez and Ashley Kiuber, and then a corner three-pointer from Piper Seamon, reversed the momentum late in the third, to give Cooperstown a 39-35 lead after three.
“We just had to make it happen,” Perez, a senior, said. “We stick together, on and off the court, win or lose. It’s just us every time.”
Little Falls made its final run early in the fourth, tying the game at 41 with a quick 6-2 run. But Perez answered with an old-fashioned three-point play with 3:36 remaining, giving Cooperstown a lead it would not give up.
Perez and Lauren Vibbard, the shortest player on the floor, continued to limit the Mounties’ second chances late in the fourth. Then a stepback jumper from Seamon followed by a Vibbard free throw gave Cooperstown a 47-43 advantage.
“When we get off the bus, we aren’t too impressive,” Niles said. “I don’t want to tell kids, ‘try harder! Try harder!’ I think that’s kinda garbage. But there’s nothing else to do when you’re getting outrebounded.”
Little Falls cut the deficit to two, but two steals in four seconds with less than a minute to play, coupled with four straight makes by Trosset at the foul line, made the Hawkeyes’ lead six in the waning seconds.
Trosset and Seamon tied for the game high with 14 points each. Trosset made four field goals and went 5-for-6 from the foul line, while Seamon made six field goals, two from beyond the arc. Trosset was named the tournament MVP and Seamon made the all-tournament team.
Perez and eighth-grader Meagan Schuermann both had nine points for Cooperstown.
Olivia Langdon had 12 points to lead Little Falls. Olivia Lindsay had 11, while Perrone and Nicole Failing each had nine.
“I totally respect everything that Cooperstown brings to the table,” Little Falls coach Pam Munger said. “You have to prepare and you have to be intense. It depends on who is on that night, and they were on tonight.”
The obstacles set forth by Little Falls were just the latest challenges to a Hawkeyes team that started the season 4-4.
“The 4-4 thing kinda got us, my stomach was like ‘this can’t be how it is,’” Trosset said. “Then we’ve only lost one more game. We just kinda ride that momentum.”
For this group of players, the struggles go back even further than Thursday’s game or this season.
“Pipe (Seamon) and Kate (Trosset) were borderline starters for the last two seasons,” Perez said. “And then they get to step out this year and to get this banner up.
“It means a lot. For me, as a junior last year, I didn’t see the floor very much,” Perez said. “So coming here and making an impact to win, it means so much to me and my friends, Lauren (Vibbard) and Kate (Trosset). We’ve been playing together since second grade.”
Having replicated the successes of the 2012-13 section title in the Carrier Dome, and the section crowns of 2015 and 2016, Cooperstown is headed back to the state tournament. The Hawkeyes won the state title in 2015 and went to the state semifinals in 2016.
“We were all here like six years ago when they won the section,” Trosset said. “It’s just one of those things where you see the girls above you earning these things, and you just want it so badly.”
Cooperstown plays Watkins Glen, the Section IV champion, in the state quarterfinal Sunday at the Floyd L. Maines Arena in Binghamton.
Cooperstown 54, Little Falls 45
Section III Class C championship
Little Falls …… 15 8 12 10 - 45
Cooperstown …… 10 17 12 15 - 54
Little Falls (21-2): Nicole Failing 4 1-2 9, Olivia Langdon 4 4-6 12, Geena Morotti 1 0-0 2, Zavia Jaime 1 0-0 2, Olivia Lindsay 5 1-4 11, Alexis Perrone 3 2-2 9. TOTALS 18 8-14 45.
Cooperstown (19-5): Abby Ford 0 0-0 0, Ashley Kiuber 2 0-0 4, Meagan Schuermann 3 3-4 9, Lauren Vibbard 0 1-2 1, Kate Trosset 4 5-6 14, Kate Donnelly 1 0-0 2, Piper Seamon 6 0-0 14, Natalie Fountain 0 0-0 0, Emilie Perez 3 3-6 9. TOTALS 19 13-18 54.
Three-point field goals: LF 1 (Perrone); C 3 (Seamon 2, Trosset).