It wasn't a retired jersey number or the team bus number, but throughout the season, 81 was the motivation of the Shaker high school girls' basketball team.
No longer will that number be used by Blue Bison coach Emily Caschera. It has been replaced.
Saturday afternoon at Hudson Valley Community College, Shaker defeated Colonie 59-52 in the Section II Class AA championsip game. Shaker advances next Saturday's regional final to take on the Section III champion at a site to be determined.
The last time a Blue Bison team won a Sectional girls title was in 1981 - thus the significance of 81.
\Oh did we ever hear that number a lot this year, said Shaker's Madison Rowland, the tournament's most valuable player. "I am so excited right now. It wasn't an easy game, but we play better with a challenge."
Not only did the Blue Bison beat a team that challenged them right down to the final minute of play, but Shaker also overcame its own challenges. Madison Rowland, the team's leading scorer, spent much of the second half on the bench in foul trouble. Lauren Woods, Shaker's No. 2 scorer, played with an injured ankle after not participating in her team's semifinal victory over Albany on Wednesday.
"It hurts pretty bad, but nothing was going to keep me out of this sectional final," said Woods, who scored 11 points in the championship game. "This game was very physical, as most games are. It didn't hurt so much when I was running, rebounding and focusing on where I needed to be. It hurt when the game stopped for free-throws or timeouts."
Yet another challenge Shaker had to overcome was a dismal performance from the free-throw line, which allowed Colonie to stay within reach. Shaker made just two-for-10 of its free throws in the first half.