Alexis Gray smiled. This was the moment she and her Erie Community College teammates had worked for: this chance to cut down the nets; this chance to go to the national tournament.
“We don’t give up,” Gray said. “It’s a lot of hard work. It was a lot of 6 a.m. practices, running. It’s just work. It’s just hard work and it pays off. I love this game.”
Gray was named the most valuable player Sunday afternoon as she led the Kats to a 58-49 win over Alfred State in the Region III women’s basketball championship. The win gives the Kats a berth into the NJCAA national tournament, scheduled for March 19-23 in East Peoria, Ill.
Gray, who played at West Seneca East, scored 18 points, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked three shots. The Kats improved to 21-5 in their first 21-win season since 1981-82.
This marks back-to-back Region III titles and national tournament bids for ECC.
“I’ve got chills,” ECC coach Natosha Cummings-Price said. “I’m very excited because we have more depth than last year. We have more height than last year.”
In Sunday’s championship game, the Kats led, 24-23, at halftime but started the second half with a 9-3 run to extend their lead to 33-26. A pair of free throws by Cara Weaver gave the Kats their first double-digit lead, 41-31, with 13:16 left to play.
Both teams played a fast-paced and sloppy game. Alfred committed 25 turnovers and shot just 26.3 percent (21 of 80) for the game. The Kats turned the ball over 22 times and shot 29.3 percent (17 of 58) from the field while hitting 22 of 33 from the line.
Alfred pulled in 65 rebounds, including 27 on the offensive end, but converted those into just 13 points.
The teams went 6 minutes and 42 seconds without scoring in the second half, starting with 9:04 left and ECC holding a 12-point lead. Then, the Pioneers (19-8) made a late run, cutting the lead to 53-45 on a three-pointer by Karley Fanning with 1:30 left.
Two free throws from Jennifer Fedrick with 1:05 left made it a six-point game, 53-47, but the Kats were able to close out the game.
“We didn’t play as a team in the first half,” Cummings-Price said. “We have won all our games, we are where we are right now, because we play as a team.
“We had to learn how to move the ball, look for the best shot selection. We weren’t doing that. We weren’t making good defensive decisions in the first half. In the second half we had to do that, help out and focus on our strengths, which are pressure defense and running the floor. Once we started doing those things everything came together. “
Bethany Hall scored 13 points for the Kats with five rebounds and three assists.
For the Pioneers, Haley Witchella had 15 points and 10 rebounds.
District championships continue this week in NJCAA Division II women’s basketball and it will be a while before the Kats know their seeding and opponent in the national tournament. Cummings-Price expects a lower seed for the Kats.
“We’ve only played 26 games and other teams have played more. Because of budgetary reasons, we were limited and couldn’t play a full schedule of 30 games and that limits us in our ranking. So I’m guessing we will probably play someone ranked in the Top Five.”
The Erie CC men’s team fell to Monroe CC, 98-89, in the Region III tournament in Rochester on Sunday. ECC, a two-time defending champion, finished 22-6.
Devon Elliott led the Kats with 30 points and had nine rebounds. Isaiah Jefferson (Riverside) added 17 points and Keron Briggs (Sweet Home) had 14.