CANANDAIGUA — Chautauqua Lake's Jenna Einink clutched the Far Western Regional championship trophy as though it were an item of great value. She wasn't about to let it go.
And for Einink and the Chautauqua Lake girls basketball team, it was just that — an item of great value.
The Thunderbirds put together another amazing offensive performance, dealing Keshequa's Lady Indians a 76-62 loss in the Class C Far Western Regional Saturday night at Finger Lakes Community College's Putt Moore Court.
The triumph secured a spot in Chautauqua Lake's first-ever NYS Final Four. The Thunderbirds will take a 21-1 record — a stretch which includes 18 straight Ws — into next weekend's state semifinal game against Haldane. Saturday afternoon's tip is slated for 12:30 p.m. at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy.
"It's our first time and we just didn't know what to expect," T-Birds head coach Eric Schuster said after posing in several team photos. "I give Keshequa a lot of credit. They're a little scrappier than I thought that they'd be. I knew they could play good defense and they doubled down on our posts, making it really difficult for us tonight. Our kids hung in there. Free throws were important for us tonight. I don't know what we were, but I thought we shot it pretty well from the foul line."
Boy, did they ever.
Lake converted 30 of its 42 trips to the line, an average of nearly 72 percent. Einink, who led all scorers with 29 points, finished 12-for-12 at the charity stripe, while teammate Ashton Albanesius had 23 points, including an 11-for-14 effort from the stripe.
Keshequa, forced to deal with the harsh reality of suffering through the remainder of the winter on the sidelines, closes up shop with a record of 21-2.
"There is a lot of sadness," Keshequa head coach Pete Piraino said. "It's been a lot of fun. There's nothing you can say really to sum it all up. They have a saying — 'Don't cry because it's over, be glad that it happened.' Well, I'm glad that it happened. I'm not crying, but I'm sad."
When Einink and Albanesius weren't making free throws, they were making layups.
"They were a big difference in the game, no question," Piraino said. "We knew they were the big scorers. They did a great job. They're very well-coached. They know what to do, but more importantly, they went out and did it."
The Indians took their lone lead of the game in the third quarter on the heels of a 14-4 run. The scoring spree was capped by back-to-back Megan Green trifectas from the left corner, making the score 39-37 with 3:48 left in the period. The teams traded two-point differentials over the next minute, but Einink's jumper from the top of the key sparked C-Lake's 6-3 mini run over the final 2:35, leaving the T-Birds ahead 49-44 going into the fourth quarter.
"We just needed some stops. We knew they were going to the two big girls as much as they could," Piraino said. "Again, we just needed some stops and we didn't get them. If we had gotten stops and gotten two or three more baskets ahead, I think it might have been a different game."
Keshequa carried over its hot shooting from last week's playdown into the regional affair, draining 11 3-pointers. Green ended up with four for 12 points, while Kathryn Piraino had three for a total of nine points. Tessa Gordinier led Keshequa with 24 points.
"We don't have much of an inside attack, that probably hurt us," Piraino admitted. "That's where you get most of the foul calls. We didn't get to the line all that much. And we really haven't all season."
Chautauqua upped the ante to eight by the break.
The Thunderbirds jumped out to an 8-1 head start over the first three minutes of the contest. It took Keshequa almost four minutes to score its first field goal, a transition layup from Tessa Gordinier. A Shannon Gordinier steal and layup made it 8-5 15 seconds later, but Chautauqua Lake went on to finish out the final 3:45 of the quarter on a 9-4 mini run to open up a 17-9 advantage by the end of the first stanza.
From the word go, it was evident Chautauqua wanted to force the pace of the game and dictate tempo.
"I was told that they'd run if they could," Piraino said. "We didn't get back well at all early in the game. We let them score to many easy baskets early. We couldn't stop them in transition. There was some damage done early in the game - we were supposed to get back and we weren't."
The Indians lose six seniors to graduation, including starters Lindsay Piraino, Shannon Gordinier and Kate Forrester as well as reserves Green, Ariel Wood and Hannah Acciari.
"They've got a lot of work to do," coach Piraino explained, "but I think we have a number of very good players coming back."
Chautauqua Lake-VI 17 16 16 27 — 76 Keshequa-V 9 16 19 18 — 62
CHAUTAUQUA LAKE: Kyleigh Hawkins 1 0-0 2, Katie Doyle 1 1-2 4, Tara Hunt 1 3-4 5, Ashley Moulton 3 2-4 8, Courtney Hewes 2 1-3 5,Jenna Einink 8 12-12 29, Ashton Albanesius 6 11-14 23. Totals: 22 30-39 76. KESHEQUA: Lindsay Piraino 2 0-0 5, Megan Green 4 0-0 12, Kathryn Piraino 3 0-0 9, Shannon Gordinier 1 0-0 2, Tessa Gordinier 9 5-10 24, Ariel Wood 1 0-0 2, Kate Forrester 1 0-0 2, Cameryn Bugman 2 0-0 6. Totals: 23 5-10 62. 3-point goals: Chautauqua Lake 2 (Doyle, Einink); Keshequa 11 (L. Piraino, Green 4, K. Piraino 3, T. Gordinier, Bugman 2). Fouled out: S. Gordinier (K), Forrester (K).