TROY — Fiona Mooney’s return from injury this week gave a new spark to the Cambridge girls basketball team.
On Friday, her presence on the court ignited an explosive performance by the Indians, as they erupted for a 75-43 victory over Maple Grove in a Class C semifinal of the State Girls Basketball Tournament.
“I really think we were motivated from last year, and Fiona’s been sitting for five weeks,” first-year head coach Bob Phillips said, referring to Cambridge’s state semifinal loss last year and Mooney’s broken wrist. “That energy has been cooped up and caged — now it’s out, and I think that brought a lot to our performance as a team.”
Mooney scored 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in her return to action, and the Indians shot a remarkable 55.8 percent from the floor to reach the state championship game for the first time since 1992.
Cambridge (24-1) is set to play Saturday at 7 p.m. at Hudson Valley Community College against 2017 champion Watkins Glen (21-4). The Senecas defeated defending champion Millbrook 53-42 in the other semifinal.
“We were really motivated because just getting back here was a great accomplishment,” said sophomore wing Lilly Phillips, who collected 11 rebounds. “Knowing we lost last year really pushed us and we were like, ‘We’ve got to get there, we’ve got to win,’ and we had to come out with a really big start.”
Led by the Phillips twins and their combined 43 points — 22 by Lilly, 21 by Sophie — the Indians shredded Maple Grove (21-4) with a sustained attack of fast-breaking fury through the game’s first three quarters. The Indians forced multiple turnovers and collected 32 rebounds to fuel their fast-moving transition offense.
“You don’t expect that type of game this late in the season — not in the state final four, certainly, but you enjoy it when it comes,” Bob Phillips said. “But we can’t rely on that happening (Saturday).”
Cambridge set the tone with eight points in the first minute of play, on 3-pointers by freshman Stasia Epler and Lilly Phillips, who added a steal and layup. From there, the Indians steamrolled to a 28-10 lead by the end of the first quarter.
The Indians continued their scoring pace in the second quarter. In one two-and-a-half-minute stretch, they knocked down four consecutive 3-pointers, two by Sophie Phillips.
As a team, Cambridge shot 18 for 27 from the floor and 8 for 9 from 3-point range in the first half for a 49-27 halftime lead.
“We’re a good shooting team,” Bob Phillips said. “We have multiple people who can shoot the 3, and when they’re all shooting well, it’s hard to defend us.”
The Indians put the game away in the third quarter, finishing the period on a 15-0 run to a 66-34 lead over the Red Dragons, who were led by Marisa Schuppenhauer’s 16 points.
“We ran into a buzzsaw,” said Maple Grove coach Bill Price, whose team was making its first state tournament appearance. “They had No. 14 (Mooney) back, she hurt us in the paint, and the Phillips girls couldn’t miss. We could’ve helped ourselves more, but they were just at a different level today.”
“It just felt amazing, we were all working really well together,” said Mooney, a 5-foot-11 sophomore center who racked up eight layups inside. “I wasn’t totally back to where I was before I got injured, but as a team we were still working together, so it was really nice to be back in with the team.”
Mooney was a difference-maker just returning to practice this week.
“You could tell Monday when she came to practice, there was a new energy level,” Bob Phillips said. “She’s like a caged animal that was finally getting a chance to play. She’s a tenacious player, she plays hard all the time, she rebounds like crazy and she’s not ever going to give up. To have her back, that’s huge because they had some size, some thickness and some athletes, and she filled that gap for us.”
“She brings back incredible energy, toughness on defense, strength, rebounding and she gets up and down the floor,” Sophie Phillips said. “She’s an incredible teammate for us. … The energy she brought today and the whole week of practice was really awesome, we totally needed it. She did a great job, we’re real proud of her.”
In Watkins Glen, Cambridge faces an opponent with a similar collection of athletes and a run-and-gun style. Seniors Taylor Kelly and Danielle Leszyk scored 18 and 17 points, respectively, in their semifinal win.
“They’re a lot like us,” Sophie Phillips said. “They move the ball very well on offense, they create a lot of chaos on defense, which helps them in transition. They push the ball and they’re really fast. We’re going to compete well with them.”
“They beat the defending champs from last year, a team that beat us,” Bob Phillips said. “They were down early and fought their way back. They’re not going to be a pushover — we’re going to have to play a really good game. I don’t expect one of these games — I didn’t expect this one, to be honest.”