CICERO – Through early-season wins over the likes of Fayetteville-Manlius, the Baldwinsville girls basketball team had more than established its contending credentials.
However, getting to the top of the Salt City Athletic Conference Metro division still meant defeating reigning sectional Class AA champion Cicero-North Syracuse.
First place in the league was at stake Friday as the Bees and Northstars squared off, a game that was in doubt until the final horn as the Bees lost a tough 52-51 decision.
The anticipation for this clash was partly about the league standings, but also the factt that these two sides met in the last Section III Class AA title game contested in 2020, won by the Northstars.
Now both sides entered this game unbeaten in league play, and it was the Bees who jumped out in front 7-0 and led 15-11 through one period, with Kyrah Wilbur producing eight points.
It was Alexa Kulikowski leading C-NS back, her 13 first-half points allowing the Northstars to catch up, even though the Bees inched back in front, 27-26, by halftime.
C-NS opened the third quarter with a 9-2 run, most of it at the free-throw line. Again B’ville battled back, led by Sydney Huhtala, whose eight points in that period kept her team in sight.
Three times in the fourth quarter, the Bees would pull within a point. Twice, C-NS restored some of its margin thanks to Alita Carey-Santangelo with a 3-pointer and some free throws, while Kulakowski added seven more points in the final period to finish with 22.
When B’ville, down 52-49, again moved within one on Ola Bednarczyk’s lay-up with 1:07 left, the Northstars were unable to answer as Carey-Santangelo missed two free throws with 7.6 seconds left.
With the last shot, the Bees got the ball to Huhtala, who by now had 23 points and again would drive to the basket. But the Northstars stripped Huhtala of the ball, which went out to Carlie Young, whose potential winning 3-pointer glanced off the rim as time ran out.
This was part of a girls/boys doubleheader which also saw the B’ville boys basketball team challenge C-NS and, even without its head coach present, was able to hang on and beat the Northstars 62-58.
Mike Lewis was absent due to COVID-19 protocols, so junior varsity coach Brett Charbonneau took over. No matter who was on the sideline, though, B’ville still turned to Jason Bifulo aand Eli Taft, and the pair delivered.
Bifulco burned C-NS for 20 of his 24 points in a first half where the Bees steadily built a 33-26 advantage. When C-NS packed in its defense to cover Bifulco in the second half, Taft took advantage, hitting on four 3-pointers to account for most of his 19 points.
This pair, combined with Greg Marinelli (who had 14 points), helped the Bees lead 51-36 going into the fourth quarter, when the Northstars, without leading scorer Luke Paragon in the lineup, staged a furious comeback that fell just short.
Three nights earlier, B’ville had challenged undefeated, state Class AA no. 21-ranked West Genesee and could not overcome a brutal first half in a 61-49 loss to the Wildcats.
Throughout the last two periods, the Bees were quite productive, seeing Taft work his total to 16 points and Marinelli step up with 13 points as Bifulco added 11 points.
But this followed a first half where the Bees got held to 14 total points by a swarming WG defense. And it maintained its lead late helped by a career-best 17 points from Jayden Macknail, a total matched by Christian Cain.