January 18, 2022

Cortland girls end drought

Photos by Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Cortland’s Tsai Lewis, right, goes to the basket against Oswego’s Caitlin Lilly during the first half of the Purple Tigers’ 45-36 sectional victory Friday night.

The Cortland High girls’ basketball team posted a Section 3 Class A tournament first-round win over Oswego Friday night in Shafer Gym.


Powered largely by the inside post play of junior forwards Lyndsie Babcock and Kaitlyn Pratt, the eighth-seeded Purple Tigers beat ninth-seeded Oswego 45-36. Both players had double-doubles, Babcock with 17 points and 13 rebounds plus two assists and Pratt with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Senior guard Tsai Lewis just missed a double-double, pulling down 10 rebounds and scoring nine points with four steals. Her sister Shyanne Lewis, a junior guard, had six steals on the night and was the winners’ only other scorer with five points.

The post-season win was the program’s first since 2012, when the Purple Tigers beat East Syracuse- Minoa and New Hartford before losing to Jamesville-De- Witt in the finals at the Carrier Dome. CHS had lost four more sectional contests since that title- game loss heading into Friday night’s game.

“Lyndsie and Kaitlyn have worked hard on the high-low, and it’s paid off,” Cortland coach Nolan Sinclair said after his team had improved to 11-9 on the season. “They were really patient, didn’t force shots and found better shots, each possession, especially late in the game. We threw the ball high and they both did a good job of finding each other going to the basket.”

“Getting the ball into the post was the key to our win,” Babcock said. “Our teammates did a good job of getting the ball to Kaitlyn and me and we were able to put the ball in.”

Lyndsie Babcock’s double-double —17 points, 13 rebounds — helped Cortland secure the victory.

Pratt also played a key role defensively, as she face-guarded Oswego junior center Caitlin Lilly while senior guard Elyssa Yonta gave senior guard Sara Casaletta, the Buccaneers’ top scorer, the same treatment. “We played man-to-man the whole game and Elyssa and Kaitlyn did a great job on their top two scorers,” Sinclair said. “It’s tough to play man-to-man like that and handle offensive responsibilities as well, but both of them did a great job.”

Cortland’s Kaitlyn Pratt scored 14 points and pulled down 10 rebounds as the Purple Tigers dominated inside.

The two SCAC Empire Division teams had met twice already this season, Oswego, which ended the season 9-11, winning 42-29 at home on Jan. 11 and 45-41 in Shafer Gym nine days prior to Friday’s contest.

“I think it gave us some extra incentive,” Sinclair said of those losses. “The last time we were missing Shyanne the entire fourth quarter due to an injury. Marissa Gilmore (junior guard) did a great job of filling in, like she did tonight. But being able to stay with them without a starter for that long gave the girls confidence that they could play with Oswego.”

It showed from the start, as the Purple Tigers roared to a 17-7 lead after the first quarter. The Buccaneers came back to score 10 of the first 11 points of the second quarter to pull within one, 18-17, and after Pratt and Lilly traded baskets down the stretch CHS still had a onepoint lead, 20-19, at halftime.

Both teams started the third quarter cold, Buccaneers junior forward Nicole Pappa hitting the first of two free throws 2:46 in to tie the game at 20-20. After Tsai Lewis also converted the first of two free throws 51 seconds later to give Cortland a 21-20 lead, Lilly scored on a spin move to put Oswego up for the first time in the game, 22-21, just prior to the midway point of the stanza. It would be the visitors’ only lead of the night, as Pratt scored with 3:44 left to put the Purple Tigers back up for good, 23-22.

Cortland had a 30-26 lead heading into the fourth quarter, Pratt scoring the first four points of the stanza to gave the hosts a 34-26 lead. Casaletta scored the next seven points to get Oswego within one, 34-33, with 2:54 left. Tsai Lewis scored inside before Casaletta drained a pair of free throws to make it a 36-35 game with 2:05 remaining.

The Purple Tigers then scored the next eight points of the game, four of those from Babcock, and after Pappa free throw Babcock hit another free throw to finish a 7-for-14 night at the line and account for the final score.

Despite being defended tightly, Casaletta still managed to score a game-high 21 points, including the game’s only four 3-pointers, while Lilly was held to seven points.

“We got into some foul trouble and some shots didn’t fall,” Oswego coach Chris O’Brien said, one of his players fouling out while two others finished with four fouls. “Hats off the Cortland; they were ready to play, were aggressive, fought hard and did what they had to do to win. Nolan does a good job and has a good group of girls.”

Sinclair was quick to share the credit, noting that assistant coach Frank Hodge, formerly a standout player for the SUNY Cortland men’s basketball team, “makes good decisions and is a great asset on the bench.”

Cortland will next visit topseeded Bishop Ludden (17-3), the 18th-ranked Class A team in the state, Tuesday at 6 p.m. in a Class A quarterfinal contest. “They’re the number one seed for a reason,” Sinclair said of the Gaelic Knights. “But the girls seem to like the underdog role; we were seeded ahead of Oswego but with the two losses they thought of themselves that way. We’re playing with house money now and have nothing to lose.”