Cambridge and Mekeel Christian have developed a rivalry in girls basketball in a brief time.
In each of the last two Section II Girls Basketball Tournaments, the Indians have seen Mekeel end their season.
Now, Cambridge (22-1) is the top seed and taking aim at its first Class C championship since 2001 — and the defending Section II champion Lions are once again standing in the way.
Cambridge and Mekeel are scheduled to square off Saturday at 4:15 p.m. at Hudson Valley Community College. It is the Indians’ first sectional finals appearance since 2011.
“Mekeel has been our nemesis — they knocked us out the last two years,” said Indians coach Tony Bochette, whose team’s only loss came to Tamarac in the Wasaren League title game on Feb. 11. “They’re a real dynamic basketball team — they can score a number of ways, they’re really good on defense, they’re athletic and quick, they have good length. They create a lot of matchup problems. They’re a lot like us.”
Cambridge is led by a core of five seniors and three freshmen. All three freshmen — Fiona Mooney and the Phillips twins, Sophie and Lilly — are starters, along with center Helen Mooney.
The Phillips girls — daughters of assistant coach Bob Phillips — are the Indians’ leading scorers, Sophie averaging 13.9 points per game, Lilly at 12.4. Helen Mooney averages 9.1 ppg, and her younger sister is at 8.5. All have some height: Helen Mooney is 5-foot-11, Fiona is 5-10, and the Phillips girls are 5-9.
“The basketball IQ for those three (freshmen) is so incredible, there isn’t the big gap between the seniors and the freshmen,” Bochette said. “They make it easy to adjust when we have to.”
The Indians had to make some adjustments in their semifinal victory over Hoosick Falls, as they trailed at halftime of Tuesday’s game. They took the momentum with an 18-6 run through the third quarter, then held the Panthers off down the stretch for a 49-42 victory.
Bochette said Helen Mooney has stepped up late in the season after returning from a midseason ankle injury. She scored a team-high 19 points against Hoosick Falls.
“Being a senior, you can see her drive every game — she doesn’t want it to be her last game,” Bochette said.
Cambridge’s other four seniors, all at least third-year varsity players, have become role players and made major contributions all season.
“They have more impact on the game in a different way,” Bochette said. “Grace Snyder and Bridey Nolan are doing what they’re best at — Bridey gives us a perimeter threat, while Grace is more of a slasher and finisher inside. Victoria Dupuis and Hailey Herrington give us valuable minutes and that grittiness on defense we need. A different one steps up every game.”
The Lions (20-2), the No. 2 seed out of the Western Athletic Conference, is led by seniors Liz Singleton and Rebekkah Dean, who both average 14.8 points per game. Mekeel is coming off a 51-49 semifinal win over tough Greenville.
“It’s almost like preparing for a mirror image,” Bochette said. “We play similar styles, we average about the same points, we’ve played similar opponents with similar outcomes.”