FALCONER - It's an old cliche, but basketball games really can be won and lost at the free throw line.
Exhibit A: Friday's non-league battle between the visiting Cassadaga Valley Lady Cougars and the Falconer Lady Golden Falcons.
Cassadaga Valley, taking advantage of a Falconer defense that struggled to defend without fouling (a pair of starters eventually fouled out) throughout the game, but especially in the second half, hit 9 of 10 free throws in the critical third period and 17 of 23 overall - that's a solid 74 percent. Meanwhile, Falconer, which stayed even with the visitors in terms of field goals - the Lady Golden Falcons made 14 compared to the Lady Cougars 13 - could only manage to connect on 4 of 15 (27 percent).
Kristi Zink of Cassadaga Valley drives past Falconer’s Julia Anderson during non-league girls basketball action on Friday night. See additional photos at cu.post-journal.com.
P-J photo by Rob Tucker
A slim, eight-point victory, 44-36, for Cassadaga Valley.
"We got into foul trouble and fell apart with fouls," Falconer coach Emily Scholeno said. "We have to make our foul shots and I think that was the big point of the game. We could have stayed with them, but we just couldn't get our (foul shots) to fall."
While the two squads played relatively even throughout the opening half, it was in the third frame when Cassadaga Valley finally pulled away for good.
Trailing as much as five, the Falconer offense soon seemed to get in rhythm as freshman Emma Steele and sophomore Brianna McFall hit back-to-back triples over a 30-second span to erase the deficit and take a slim, 26-24 advantage - the first for the hosts.
But that momentum quickly dissipated as, with a little more than four minutes left in the quarter, the Lady Golden Falcons committed their seventh team foul, thereby putting the Lady Cougars on the line after each foul for the remainder of the half.
Cassadaga Valley wasted little time in taking advantage.
With renewed focus at attacking the net, Heather Ames drew the first call and connected on both her free throws to knot the game at 26. Fifteen seconds later it was Shawana Miller, who promptly hit both ends of the 1-and-1 to recapture the advantage. After that it was Jessica Burch for two and a few moments following Kristi Zink found the bottom of the net on both her shots to put Cassadaga ahead for good, 35-26.
When it was all said and done, the Lady Cougars had outscored Falconer 17-3 over the final four minutes of the quarter to balloon the advantage to 41-29.
"My kids faced adversity real well (tonight)," Cassadaga Valley coach Mark Petersen said. "We were up (five points), they tied it and then we went down two. Basketball is a game of runs like that, and we could have said, 'Oh, we're on the road, they just tied it and now we're down two so (let's give up),' but they didn't."
Miller led the winners with 12 points and 14 rebounds. She also went a perfect 6 of 6 on free throws. Right behind her was Ames with 10 points (3 for 4 from the line) and Kristi Zink with 10 points, six of which were earned with free shots.
"They took the game over when was on the line," Petersen said. "We had a little bit of a lull there and (Falconer) came back nicely, but we came back a little stronger and got the win.
"It got a little ragged at times, but for the first night (of the season) they did a good job. Any win on the first night is a good win, especially on the road."
While their free-throw shooting was nearly perfect in the third, it was a different story in the fourth as the Lady Cougars missed 5 of 6 and were held to just three points over the entire frame.
But Falconer faced similar difficulties, missing 8 of 9 on the way to coming up short.
Scholeno, who is in her first year as the varsity coach after being an assistant for the last three, expects improvement as the season progresses.
"This is a whole new group with only one returning starter," she said. "Five of the 10 players (are either freshmen or sophomores) so they're still getting used to it all. They're working hard, though, and they've just got to start believing in themselves."
For Falconer, Shannon Gunnell hauled in a whopping 17 rebounds to go along with a team-high 10 points while Alyssa Brooks netted eight points with 10 rebounds and three steals.
Both Falconer and Cassadaga Valley will be back in action on Tuesday for the opening round of the Cassadaga Valley Tournament. The Lady Golden Falcons will square off against Sherman at 7 p.m., and the Lady Cougars will meet Maple Grove at 8:30 p.m.