When Horseheads (16-3) takes on Section I champ Ossining (21-2) in a Class AA state quarterfinal girls basketball game at 4 p.m. Saturday at Binghamton University's Events Center, it will be just the Blue Raiders' third game in 23 days.

Long layoffs between playoff games has become the norm for the Horseheads Blue Raiders.
Hailing from the sparsely-populated Class AA bracket in Section IV, Horseheads advanced directly from its first-ever STAC championship triumph to a spot in the sectional title game, a tedious 13 days later.
When Horseheads (16-3) takes on Section I champ Ossining (21-2) in a Class AA state quarterfinal girls basketball game at 4 p.m. today at Binghamton University’s Events Center, it will be just the Blue Raiders’ third game in 23 days.
And while such lengthy layoffs can be either helpful or detrimental, Horseheads head coach Andy Scott felt fortunate for the nine-day layoff as he prepares his team for what figures to be its toughest challenge of the season.
“I think it’s important to try to piece together your puzzle as far as a practice plan and game preparation, little by little,” Scott said. “It’s a little bit easier than trying to jam it all down your throat, especially when you’re playing a team like this.”
Ossining isn’t just any sectional champ. The four-time defending Section I, Class AA champion Pride are also the defending state champ and top-ranked team left in the state tournament. Ossining was barely tested Tuesday in a 77-47 shellacking of Section IX champ Kingston in a regional qualifier and the Pride posted a 20-point win against Horseheads in the state playoffs last season.
Although the Blue Raiders have made a successful living this season feeding off of their full-court pressure and up-tempo style, the Pride have taken that brand of basketball to even greater heights.
“We’re the team that usually is the one putting pressure on people and I think (Ossining) is the type of team that will put the pressure on us a little bit,” Scott said. “But bottom line is, I think we’re going to be in pretty good shape if we go out and execute offensively. If we’re able to handle their pressure, if we’re able to limit their second chances and if we’re able to slow them down a little bit.”
After coasting to a 62-25 sectional championship rout of Union-Endicott on Feb. 27 – a Thursday, Scott and the Blue Raiders had a quick practice Friday, before getting the weekend off. The team resumed practice Monday as the Blue Raiders started to zero in on a potential matchup with Ossining, despite the fact the Pride didn’t beat Kingston until Tuesday, a game Scott and his staff scouted in person.
“Even though we didn’t know who we were playing, we started preparing a little bit for Ossining just because we had a feeling,” Scott said. “We’ve been preparing for them for a little bit and you have to take this long to prepare for them because they’re just so much different than anything we’ve seen. You’ve got to get ready for a brand-new style of basketball and if you’re going to win the state title, that’s the way you’ve got to do it.”
Led by 6-foot junior power forward Jalay Knowles, Ossining brings a potent combination of size and speed. Knowles – who torched Kingston for 42 points and 20 rebounds – is one of three Ossining starters who stands at least 6-feet tall.
“Even though they’re bigger girls, they’re still super fast,” Scott said. “I don’t think you’re going to be able to take them out of their tempo, because they like to push nonstop. It’s easy to say let’s slow it down, but people forget we have a 30-second shot clock and it’s hard to slow it down when they’re constantly sending two people at you because they want to play that up-tempo style.”
With seniors Jen LaViola and Ellie Leszyk, along with junior Amanda Schiefen leading the way, Scott believes his team is capable of knocking off the mighty Pride. And the added preparation time should only help the cause.
“I think the layoff is nice,” Scott said. “You get the bye and you don’t have to travel all over God’s creation – that helps. Everybody’s been pretty focused on what we need to do. We’ve got a job to take care of and we’ve got a tall task, but if everybody does what they’re supposed to do, the long layoff should prove to be a positive.”
If there’s another slight advantage for Horseheads to grasp hold of, it’s the Blue Raiders’ familiarity with Binghamton’s Events Center, which will serve as a home away from home.
“I think it helps,” Scott acknowledged of playing at a familiar Section IV site. “We’ve been there, so that’s nice. It’s in our area and it’s a shorter trip and all those types of things factor in. It is nice to play in something you’ve been in before. Last year, we played at the college in New Rochelle – never been there, not familiar with the area, take a four-hour bus trip. There was a lot of unknowns there. This stuff, we’ve been this route before, so I think that’s definitely a positive for us.”
A win against Ossining would send Horseheads back to the state final four at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy for the first time since 2002. In 2009, the Blue Raiders were denied a trip to the state final four after losing to Kingston at the buzzer.
Scott, of course, hopes this year will be different.
“If the girls come out and play like they’re capable of playing and they’re ready to go, I think we might surprise some people,” Scott said.