When Sherman coach Mel Swanson and his Lady Wildcats sat down to watch film on their upcoming Far West Regional foes, Batavia-Notre Dame, he was struck by how similarly they played to another, more local squad.
That team? The Pine Valley Lady Panthers.
That should suit the Lady Wildcats just fine. After all, Sherman made easy work of that group, vanquishing them from the playoffs, 60-37, in the Section 6 Class D final on the way to clinching its third sectional title in the last five seasons.
Sherman’s Elle Reed and Jamestown’s Karisha Tapia. At right is Sherman coach Mel Swanson, who leads Section 6 in all-time girls victories.
P-J file photos
"They play a lot like Pine Valley," Swanson said of the Fighting Irish. "The game we saw showed they really like to pick up the pressure, play full-court man-to-man defense and ball trap whenever they can. It was very similar to Pine Valley."
Not only do the Fighting Irish, currently ranked No. 5 in New York State for Class D (just a spot ahead of the 19-2 Lady Wildcats) employ similar defensive stylings, but they also look to accomplish the same things on the offensive end - namely, hit the 3-pointer.
"They want to dribble-penetrate, kick out and shoot the 3," said Swanson, who is the winningest coach in Section 6 history. "They do a lot of cutting, moving and motion-type offenses. It's really a guard-focused, perimeter-shooting team."
The team's lone senior, Riley Norton, is looked to most beyond the arc. The 5-foot-9 forward is averaging 12.8 points and 5.8 rebounds per game; and during the Fighting Irish's Section 5 Class D crossover victory over Mt. Morris, 45-27, she recorded a double-double with 12 points and 12 boards.
The group's leading scorer, Melanie Taylor (16.7 points and 4.6 rebounds per game), led the way with 13 points.
"They didn't look for a lot of shots other than from (Taylor and Norton)," Swanson explained. "Those two look to penetrate and drive to the hoop a lot more than the other (players). They like to take the 3 whenever it's open, but it's (those two) that take more than anybody else."
The big mystery is not how Batavia-Notre Dame will try to score, however; it's how will it opt to defend Western New York's top offensive threat, Elle Reed.
"We're just wondering, after watching the tape of the game we have a few times, what kind of defense they'll use against Elle," Swanson said, "and whether they can find an answer to her game and what she's able to do in the open floor. We've seen a box-and-one, a triangle-and-two and it's nothing new.
"So we're interested in what they may play against her."
Judging by past games, Swanson has an inkling that it will be 5-foot-3 junior captain Lauren Call that draws the unenviable assignment of slowing the Lady Wildcats' prolific scorer.
"In their last two games (Call) guarded (their opponents) best guard," Swanson said.
But while many have tried, few have succeeded.
Reed hasn't scored fewer than 23 points in a single game this season.
Tip-off is slated for 5 p.m., Saturday, at Buffalo State College.
While the Jamestown boys will have their work cut out for them out in Rochester, their counterparts, the Lady Red Raiders, will be locked in a hard-fought contest of their own that very same day against unbeaten Gates-Chili, at 3 p.m., at Buffalo State.
"It's going to be a fight to the end," Jamestown coach Mark Nugent said.
The Lady Spartans, ranked No. 3 in the state for Class AA, have won all 22 of their contests this season, and in their last four playoff games alone have won by an average margin of 25 points (At 20.5 points, Jamestown's winning margin during the postseason isn't too shabby either).
Most recently, the squad toppled Irondequoit, 76-64, in the Section 5 Class AA crossover final.
"They're very athletic," Nugent explained. "They like to run, they've got a really good point guard and they've beaten some very good teams this season."
That point guard is Stony Brook-bound senior, Kori Bayne-Walker, who has scored 16.8 points per game. Along with Bayne-Walker is guard Cierra Dillard (16.5 points per game) and 5-foot-8 junior Diona Johnson (17.5 points).
It's a trio that forms the nucleus of the Lady Spartans' offense; after that production drops steeply.
Together they'll attempt to do exactly what has made Jamestown, 18-3 overall and No. 18 in the state, so successful this season - press and run.
"(In terms of athleticism) we're identical," Nugent said, "so we've just got to play our game, push as much as we can and try to dictate the pace.
"Our kids will fight; they'll battle."
And they're confident, too - that's what happens when you come close to the century mark in the sectional final.
Putting on an offensive show - from down low all the way out beyond the arc - the Lady Red Raiders cruised to their first title since 2008, 97-63, over Niagara Wheatfield. During that game, senior Karisha Tapia poured in 26 points while sophomore Anne Campion followed with 19 and Rosa Velazquez chipped in with 18 more.
All together, four players reached double figures, and 11 of 13 scored.
It'll take another solid, team-wide effort on Saturday for Jamestown to reach the New York State Public High School girls basketball tournament for the first time since the 1983-84 season.