CORTLAND — With such a long layoff before high school basketball season finally kicked off this week, there’s a chance fans may have to see a few games with their teams still getting their game legs underneath them.
Not the case with the Cortland Purple Tigers and the Auburn Maroons girls’ teams, who put on a frenetic showcase of skill that ended in a 64-60 Maroons win at Cortland High Thursday night.
Cortland’s Kirsten Merritt led all scorers with 22 points, five rebounds, four steals and three assists, but she was the only Purple Tiger in double figures. Auburn, on the other hand, had three players in double figures — Peyton Maneri, Doray Dilallo and Ahndria Wilson — and a fourth, Leah Middleton, who was one point shy of a double-double.
The game started out promisingly for the Purple Tigers, as they led 14-11 after one quarter and were able to extend that lead even further in the opening minutes of the second quarter. And the catalyst for the Purple Tigers was not Merritt, but Margaret Starr, who scored all five of her points in the first quarter, all at the free throw line, and picked up five rebounds and four steals in the opening frame to boot.
But the game tilted in the Maroons’ favor midway through the second, and Maneri (17 points, five assists, four rebounds, four steals), Dilallo (15 points, eight rebounds, three steals, Wilson (10 points, two rebounds) and Middleton (nine points, 10 rebounds, four steals, three assists) were big reasons why. They were able to pull the game level at 33 at halftime and eventually take the lead after three quarters, 51-45.
“Into the second quarter we had a little foul trouble and had to make some quick switches on the floor and we lost our flow,” Cortland head coach Janice Meyer said. “Auburn capitalized with a good three minute run towards the end of second.
Middleton’s rebounding was especially key. Some of her game-high 10 rebounds came on shots by her teammates that on other squads would end the possession with a whimper and have them running back up court on defense.
But Middleton snagged down long rebounds at all angles and gave the Maroons extra possessions, which led to her feeding Wilson, Maneri and Natalie Ryan for three-pointers that would eventually put the game just beyond the Purple Tigers’ reach.
“They continued to shoot the ball well into the second half and we struggled getting the advantage on the rebounding end and gave them too many second opportunities,” Meyer said.
The frenetic pace benefited both teams, but it also came back to bite them at times. In particular, the Purple Tigers coughed up a couple of careless turnovers late in the first half that allowed the Maroons to tie the game going into intermission.
There were also some quick-trigger shots that led to easy blocks for both teams, four for the Maroons and three for the Purple Tigers.
“We knew Auburn would push the pace,” Meyer said. “Our goal was to not fall into that quite as much as we did. With that being said, we had many moments where we did very well at that fast pace. We had moments of shooting the ball well, and a couple quick releases I would have liked to see waited on, but this game showed us what we can do and what we need to do.”
Despite the loss, there were plenty of encouraging signs in Meyer’s eyes.
“We started this season with a big league game and got a very good gauge of where we are at this point after a long year off,” Meyer said. “If we continue to show up, clean up some footwork and positioning on defense and continue to implement some systems we have been developing, I think we will surprise people.”
The Purple Tigers (0-1) play their next game Saturday at 1 p.m. at home against East Syracuse-Minoa.