Photo by Mark Gutman
Perry’s Kelly Zanghi (21) hugs teammate Emma Oee after the Lady Yellowjackets defeated HAC to advance to the state quarterfinals. HAC
Perry girls advance to state quarters
HENRIETTA — Following a road loss to Dansville toward the end of January, something changed within the complexion of the Perry girls basketball team.
The Yellowjackets were sitting at a respectable 9-3 but quite a long way from realizing their full potential. But following Tuesday night’s Class C regional playoff against Harley-Allendale-Columbia at Rochester Institute of Technology, Perry has turned into quite a juggernaut.
The Yellowjackets used their trademark fierce defensive pressure and quickness to stifle the Wolves in the second half and eventually break open a close game to win 60-44 and advance to Friday night’s state quarterfinals at Finger Lakes Community College.
“Fair or not, in the beginning of the season they relied on me a little too much, and maybe that’s my fault,” said Perry head coach Brent Gillett. “But as the season moved on, they gained more and more confidence and they started to make plays and they started to make decisions.”
Perry has now won 11 consecutive games since that January loss and, more impressively, has toppled three teams ranked in the state Top 10 in the past week — No. 7 Lyons, No. 5 Bishop Kearney and now No. 6 H-A-C.
And despite whatever is thrown at her, Kaleigh Cicero continues to get it done for the Yellowjackets.
Battling a severe cold, Cicero scored a team-high 24 points, including 14 in the decisive second half, pulled down five rebounds, had four blocks and dish out four assists. She was also 11-of-12 from the free throw line, 8-of-8 in the second half.
The loss was the first on the season for the Wolves and it came at the worst time, despite the efforts of junior guard Kayli O’Keefe.
O’Keefe scored a game-high 27 points, many in spectacular fashion, as she single-handedly tried to send H-A-C to Canandaigua on Friday.
“It’s been amazing, we never expected to make it this far,” said Perry captain Danielle Kwiecien. “It’s pretty impressive.”
But early on, it appeared that Perry’s late game heroics were not going to be necessary.
Junior guard Kelly Zanghi begin the game white-hot and scored all eight of her points in the first 4:12 of the first quarter, including a deep jumper that culminated a 13-2 Perry run to start the game to put the Yellowjackets in early control.
As the Wolves began to fight back, Perry stayed on course and again stretched its lead to 11 at 19-8 after a Kwiecien jumper with just under a minute to play in the first half.
But an O’Keefe driving layup with 29 seconds to go in the first made it 19-10 after one and appeared to ignite a spark into H-A-C.
The Yellowjackets uncharacteristically struggled with the ball at the beginning of the second quarter and turned it over on their first four possessions, all while the Wolves were whittling into their lead.
An O’Keefe steal and layup following a 3-pointer from the wing had the lead down to 19-15 at the 5:55 mark. Cicero would stop the proverbial bleeding with a trey of her own as the shot clock wore down, but H-A-C kept fighting back.
After they continued to battle, the Wolves eventually tied the game with a 5-0 spurt late in the half, capped by a Jenny Scudder inside bucket to make it 25-25 and the two teams traded baskets to head into the break tied at 27.
“We came out and got off to a good start but give H-A-C credit, they adjusted well and we did not in the second quarter,” said Gillett.
H-A-C quickly took the lead in the third when Scudder hit a layup on the fast break and was fouled — she completed the 3-point play and the Wolves led for the first time at 30-27.
Kwiecien came right back and drained a deep trey from the wing off of the assist from Kelly Zanghi and tied the game at 30 but O’Keefe split the Perry defense again less than two minutes later to give H-A-C the 32-30 advantage.
However, that was the last lead that the Wolves would own as the Yellowjacket tenacity reared its head again.
“It was exciting for us all but it was scary at the same time because we were all a little bit nervous,” said Cicero. “But we knew that we needed to win.”
In all, Perry only trailed for 51 seconds the entire night and eventually began to wear down the Wolves, who played with their starters for much of the evening.
“I just kept thinking that we weren’t going to lose this and that we were going to win this game,” said Kwiecien.
And as she did against Lyons and Bishop Kearney, Cicero began to take over from there.
She scored the first six points of a 14-3 run to end the quarter that was capped by a deep 3-pointer from sophomore McKaylee Croll with five seconds left to give Perry a 44-35 lead heading into the fourth.
Croll hit two 3s on the night but did her damage on the boards as she pulled down a team-high 10 rebounds.
The two teams traded buckets for the first five minutes of the final frame before H-A-C went on a 5-0 run to cut the Perry lead to 48-42 with just over two minutes left, but that was as close as the Wolves could get.
Cicero then sparked an 8-0 spurt with six points in less than a minute to put the game out of reach and send the Yellowjackets to the state tournament for the first time in school history.
“Kaleigh, again, did her thing in the second half,” said Gillett. “There are not too many people that are better conditioned than her. She’s sick, but she’s not going to use that as an excuse.”
Kwiecien finished the night with nine points, nine rebounds and five steals while Chelsea Bzduch added seven points and four boards, including a pair of late baskets to ice things and send Perry to Friday night’s quarterfinals with a 20-3 record.
“It’s all about heart,” said Cicero. “Being a small-town school, we have a togetherness that not all the private schools have. And I think with our fan base, we all want it more.”
Scudder was solid all game for the Wolves as she finished with 14 points and a game-high 12 boards as they finished their season at 21-1.
Perry will play at 6 p.m. on Friday against Randolph (Section 6), which defeated Salamanca on Tuesday.
— Story by Batavia Daily News Sportswriter Nate Rider.