Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
Through two-plus quarters of play, Wednesday night's Patriot Athletic Conference basketball game between Columbia and Fairview could easily have been labeled a defensive struggle.
And that was exactly the way head coach Bill Harvey and his Warriors wanted it.
Fairview, though trailing 16-10 early in the third quarter, had held the Raiders' one-two punch of Alison Schafer and Becca Tacchite to a combined 10 points. That defensive effort paid off as the Warriors eventually pulled away for a 42-24 win that clinched a tie for their second straight PAC Stripes Division championship.
"They have two main players, and we took them out with our defense," said Fariview senior Kelsey Bilak, who led all scorers with 23 points, 10 of them coming in a 23-3 second half run that proved to be enough to clinch the win.
Fairview used a box-and-one defense on Schafer, who was hounded by junior Sarah Digennaro. Fellow junior Jenny Mylett helped from time to time when she wasn't paying close attention to Tacchite.
Tacchite finished with 11 points to lead the Raiders, while Schafer, a junior who recently scored her 1,000th career point, was held to just six.
"That put all the pressure on their other three players," Bilak explained. "Sarah and Jenny really stepped it up with their defense. They were unbelievable. If we don't hold Schafer down, she could come out and score 20 points.
"That would have made it a whole different game," she said.
It was a low-scoring contest from the start, with the visitors getting the only points in the first quarter on a Tacchite 3-pointer. Columbia led 12-10 at the half and scored the first four points of the third quarter on buckets by junior Taylor Napoli.
But Harvey said he wasn't concerned.
"There wasn't any concern after the first quarter," insisted Harvey, whose team moved to 13-1 in the Stripes Division. "We had put ourselves in a position to where regardless of what happened today, we would still be at least tied for first place.
"At the end of the quarter, I looked at my assistant coach, Rick Wallenhorst, and said 'we're fine.' We were locked in defensively, and I knew our offense would come. That was my main concern, our defense. I wasn't concerned about our offense.
"At halftime, I told the girls we had the lead and that the baskets would start to fall in the second half, and they did. We stayed locked in defensively. That's a hard combo there, because Alison and Becca are phenomenal. Alison can shoot it from the parking lot," he said.
But with Digennaro hounding Schafer from baseline to baseline, Columbia's offense continued to stall. In fact, the Raiders did not score another basket until Napoli scored inside with 3:18 left in the game.
Meanwhile, the Warriors made their move. Bilak got things started with a drive for two, then senior forward Kaprina Hawkinson scored back-to-back buckets inside to tie the score at 16-16.
A Bilak steal led to a pair of made free throws from the 5-6 guard to give the home team its first lead of the game. Senior Nikki Hawkinson scored on a drive and was fouled, and her converted charity toss made it 21-16 with 22.8 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Warrior run continued into the fourth quarter, with a Mylett 3-pointer giving her team a 29-17 lead with just under five minutes remaining. Columbia's only points during that stretch came on three Tacchite free throws.
"Our team has relied on Alison and Becca," admitted Columbia head coach Tom Thompson, whose team fell to 13-6 overall and two games behind Fairview at 11-3 with two conference games remaining.
"They've been our primary scorers during the year," Thompson continued. "Fairview did a great job of forcing them to take some off-balance shots, things like that. I credit our kids for rebounding the basketball, and challenging themselves for getting inside and trying to create.
"But it is what it is. Bilak hit some shots in rhythm and that kept their momentum going," he said.
Another Mylett 3-pointer gave Fairview a 37-21 lead with 2:36 left in the game. Defensively, the Warriors had switched over to a triangle and two to further frustrate to Raider offense.
"When we went out to their place the first game, we played a triangle and two," Harvey said. "It really caused them fits because I don't think they had seen that before. I think we held them to 29 percent shooting that game.
"This time, we didn't have the girl who ran on Alison, so I had to go with Sara. I didn't want to extend another body, so we worked all week in practice on the box and one, staying in tight and helping. We kept the triangle and two in our pocket until the end.
"When we started to make that little run, coach nudged me and said 'let's go to the triangle.' When we went to it, that really caused problems for them. It worked out great," he said.
When it was all said and done, Columbia had made just seven baskets in 52 attempts. That made Fairview's 11 of 30 seem all that much better. The Warriors also went 15 of 19 from the free throw line, while the Raiders made seven of 13.
After Bilak's 23 points, Kaprina Hawkinson chipped in with eight points and eight rebounds, while Mulett finished with six points.
"I'm so proud of them," Harvey said. "I was so close to stepping away after last year because I've got two little ones at home. It was hard.
"The girls came to me and set up a game plan. They presented it to me, and they wanted me to stay. They said 'we're going to do this, and we're going to do it as a family.' We din't care about wins and losses, we were going to do this because of each other.
"As the season has gone on and things started to come together, it's been so much fun. I broke down in there after the game because I was so proud. They were rooting for each other, cheering for each other. That's what makes it all worthwhile," he added.
Fairview can clinch the outright championship with one more win. The first opportunity comes Saturday night when the Warriors host Oberlin.
"Saturday's big," said Harvey, whose team is now 14-5 on the season.
"It's Senior Night, and it's the last time these girls will step onto this floor unless we have a home tournament game. I don't think there will be a problem getting up for that game. We'll be ready," he said.
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Click on the cameras below to view Larry's photos and video highlights from this game: