CANANDAIGUA — The Chautauqua Lake girls basketball team has always been one to embrace change.
Its ability to adjust to the twists and turns of Saturday night’s game enabled the Thunderbirds to beat Keshequa, 76-62, and win the Class C title at the Far West Regionals.
The Thunderbirds are the last Section VI team standing as Section V won the other four games played at Finger Lakes Community College.
“We tried to keep them guessing as best we could,” coach Eric Schuster said. “We threw about three different defenses at them. I think the key was going back to the box-and-one with about 5 minutes left in the third quarter. We got that lead back up to eight.”
The Thunderbirds (22-1) will take a 19-game winning streak into the state final four, where they will face Haldane of Section I at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday at Hudson Valley Community College. Haldane beat Friends Academy of Section VIII in its regional, 46-39. The winner of the Chautauqua Lake-Haldane game will play for the Class C state title on Sunday at 1:45 p.m. The Thunderbirds have never been to the state tournament.
Chautauqua Lake had a decided size advantage, but it also proved adept at sharing the ball and finding the open person underneath. They look to push the ball, but also know when to pull it out and run the offense.
Juniors Jenna Einink and Ashton Albanesius were strong inside. Einink had 10 points in the fourth quarter, when her team needed a scorer. “We were throwing the ball away, making unforced errors,” she said. “My team steps up when I’m not doing so well. When we were throwing those balls away I knew I really needed to step up and show my team we can do this.”
Einink finished with 29 points while Albanesius had 23. Ashley Moulton chipped in with eight.
Chautauqua Lake was in control of the game most of the way. They jumped out to a 17-9 lead after the first quarter. The game got tighter in the second quarter as Keshequa’s Tessa Gordinier scored to get her team within 24-22, but that’s as close as they would get in the first half. The Thunderbirds took a 32-25 lead into the locker room.
“I told them at halftime, we didn’t play out best basketball, but we’re still up by seven,” said Schuster. “They came down and hit some big shots, and yeah I was worried. We switched a few things up offensively. We went back to the diamond-and-one which helped us for a while.”
In the third quarter, Keshequa took a short-lived lead at 39-37 on a three-pointer. The game was tied twice before Einink and Albanesius began to make their presence felt. The duo helped their team end the quarter on a 9-0 run over the final 2:22 for a 49-44 lead after three.
The Thunderbirds outscored the Indians, 27-18, in the fourth quarter, making 17 of 21 free throws to put the game away.