In order to get a chance to play in its backyard for the state Class AA final four, the Shaker girls basketball team first had to go west and conquer Section III champion Cicero-North Syracuse in last Saturday's regional finals at Liverpool High School, just north of Syracuse.
But the Blue Bison never got close, overwhelmed by the nation's top-ranked junior player, Breanna Stewart, and the rest of her Northstars mates in a 63-34 defeat where a rash of turnovers hit at the worst possible time.
Going to the state playoffs was fairly uncharted territory for Shaker, who hadn't won a sectional title for 29 years prior to its victory over Colonie in the March 5 Section II finals.
By contrast, CNS had won three consecutive Section III Class AA titles, but had lost in the regional found in both 2009 and 2010. Led by Stewart, who has already made a verbal commitment to attend Connecticut in 2012, the Northstars were not about to fall short again.
Through a physical first quarter, it stayed close, but Shaker trailed 15-10. Then, after the Blue Bison cut it to 15-14 early in the second period, CNS took off.
Stewart's pair of free throws started a 16-0 dash. Before it was done, the CNS full-court press had rattled Shaker into all kinds of mistakes while, on the offensive side, Kelsey Mattice buried a pair of three-pointers and, in between, managed a steal that turned into a pair of Brittany Paul free throws.
Stewart added four more free throws, and the Blue Bison trailed 31-16 at halftime. Remarkably, Shaker had more turnovers in the first half (17) than points, but the trouble wasn't over.
Shaker cut down a bit on the turnovers in the third quarter but CNS still dominated during an 18-3 run. This meant that the Blue Bison had been outscored 34-3 during that decisive middle stretch.
Physical play led to free throws and CNS made a remarkable 25 in a row, 26 of 27 overall. Many of them came from Stewart, who finished with 22 points, 18 rebounds, seven blocks and three steals. Stewart's help came from Sarah Bowles and Kelsey Mattice, who posted 14 points apiece.
Mackenzie Rowland, in defeat, led Shaker with 12 points, while Mallorie Dickson had seven points. Adrianne Devine and Lauren Woods each got six points.
Shaker finishes its season at 20-3 and sees four seniors " Devine, Dick-son, Angelica Smith and Christine Alley " depart.""