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IAC GIRLS BASKETBALL: CANDOR TOPS S-VE IN DOWN-TO-THE-WIRE THRILLER (2024-02-14)

By TIM TAYLOR
Tioga County Sports Report
SPENCER — Maybe it’s only fitting that on Valentine’s Day the Candor and Spencer-Van Etten girls basketball teams had to play their hearts out to determine the IAC South Small School champion.

In the end, the Coyotes prevailed with some timely offense to win a 42-40 playoff and advance the overall championship game.

“What a game. What a game. That was great,” said Candor coach Carl Kanoff. “Those are games you prefer to watch than coach. That was awesome.”

The Panthers carried a 40-37 lead into the final minute of play, but sent Candor to the foul line three times. The Coyotes missed two shots at 59.8 seconds and two more with 40.2 seconds to go.

The third time, however, put Emmi Makie at the stripe. She was hit on the forearm while attempting a 3-pointer, giving her three free throws. Makie drained all three to tie the score.

“Called timeout to draw up a plate we've been working on to get her beyond the three-point arc because we were down three,” said Kanoff. “She got out there, she shot, got the foul. For a freshman to go to the line there with that kind of pressure and she stroked the net. It wasn't even an issue. She just got there and she hit them one by one.”

“We knew they were going to try and go for a three,” S-VE coach Justin Cole said. “They were down three with 20 seconds left and we were looking for it. We closed out and that happens at times. You're trying to close out, play good defense, not let the shot go up. You can't knock that effort and there just happened to be a foul on it.”

Candor would get the ball back again in the final seconds and Nicola Soper scored the winning field goal with 1.4 seconds to go. S-VE’s 3-point attempt at the buzzer fell short.

“The one thing I've never questioned all season on this team is their heart and their motivation,” Cole said. “They work hard every single second. They're resilient. I can't say anything more about them. They give me everything, every single game from the tip to the last one, and they've done it all season long and they did it again tonight. We just didn't come out on the right side of it.”

It should come as no surprise that the game was a 32-minute battle, given the fact the teams split two close games during division play.

Hazel Ray gave Candor a 4-2 edge in the first three minutes of action, but a Faith Brenchley trey followed by a Demi Mouillesseaux basket put S-VE in front, 7-4.

The Coyotes retaliated with a quick Soper bucket and Maggie Jennison free throw to knot the score only to have Brenchley knock down another three-ball. She would tack on a conventional 3-point play to give S-VE a 13-8 advantage heading into the second period.

Neither team dominated this game although the momentum clearly favored Candor for about 6 1/2 minutes leading up to halftime

“They had got some shots to go in that I didn't think we're going in, but they did, but that's what happens in a basketball game,” “They did a little bit in the second,” Cole said. “They had got some shots to go in that I didn't think we're going in, but they did, but that's what happens in a basketball game. If you let a team hang around, some shots are going to go in and that's exactly what happened.

"All the credit to them. They worked their tails off just like we did and they came out on top. If you let a team hang around, some shots are going to go in and that's exactly what happened. All the credit to them. They worked their tails off just like we did and they came out on top.”

The Panthers’ Adriena Farmer scored the first basket of the second quarter and teammate Raegan Sudnikovich popped in a pair of free throws just six seconds later to push the S-VE lead to 17-8, the biggest lead of the game by either team.

That cushion would disappear by halftime as the Coyotes erupted with a 17-4 run that had Soper scoring 11 points, including a trio of threes.

Meanwhile, the Panthers missed two layups off steals and a few shots in the paint as Candor surged ahead, 25-21 at the break.

“We knew it was going to be tight,” Kanoff said. “Our first two games were tight. We were down six at our place. We came over here, won by two. We knew it was going to be close. I told the girls, if we score in the mid-40s, 44 points, that that could be the victor, because we’re two pretty low-scoring teams, or two good defensive teams, whichever way you want to look at it, and we knew it was going to be a battle.

We knew that if we fell behind, we had to keep pushing and we were down nine there in the first half and we came back to take the lead for halftime. That's an attribute of our focus and our determination.”

The third quarter brought a seven-point spurt from Farmer, a bucket by Sudnikovich and a free throw from Lilyanah Doolittle to close the gap to 32-31.

Soper countered with five points and Ray added a pair of free throws to keep the Coyotes in front, and Ray scored with 11 seconds left in the period to make it 34-31 heading into the final stanza.

S-VE’s Aubrie Kastenhuber started the scoring in the fourth with a trey which tied things up at 34. Sudnikovich and Ray swapped single free throws, then Sudnikovich tacked on a field goal for a 37-35 lead.

Following a free throw by Candor’s Megan Williamson, Mouillesseaux made a foul shot and Sudnikovich put back a teammate’s miss for a 40-36 advantage with 1:34 to play.

Ten seconds later, Ray stepped to the line and hit two free throws, but the latter one was waived off due to a lane violation, leaving Candor trailing, 40-37.

Soper finished the night with a double-double, putting up 20 points and pulling down 26 rebounds. She also blocked six shots and had two steals.

Ray contributed 10 points, going 6-for-8 at the stripe, and added six boards and two steals. Williamson had six points and five boards; Makie chipped in with five points and five boards; and Jennison tacked on one point, two rebounds and one steal.

Claire Rollins snagged three rebounds and had two blocks for Candor, Shawna Conklin added a pair of rebounds and Malley Heidl dished out two assists.

Farmer led S-VE with 11 points while Brenchley and Sudnikovich scored nine apiece. Kastenhuber pitched in with five points, and Doolittle and Mouillesseaux added three each.

Cole described his team and its season as resilient.

“Like I said, I never have to question their effort in practice, in every single game. Regardless of the score, they're going to give me the maximum effort that they have and I couldn't ask for anything more out of them.”

Kanoff called the accomplishment “phenomenal” for his group, which has just one senior (Jennison) on the roster.

“First of all, they're all great kids, every single one of them; great human beings, honor students, super polite, super conscientious, so the fact that we're young, they took a leap last year, where I was starting two eighth-graders and two freshmen, and we had eighth-graders on JV. To go through that struggle and put the work in, and make the growth that we needed to grow and to come here this year, double our win total from the previous year, win the division, make sectionals, the future's very, very bright. And they deserve it. They deserve every single thing.”

Candor (8-8) faces Moravia (16-3), ranked ninth in the state in Class C, for the overall championship Friday at 6 p.m. at TC3.

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PHOTOS BY TIM TAYLOR.

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