Mustangs defeat Red Raiders for undefeated regular season, league title
DANSVILLE — The Dansville Mustangs held off a late push from Hornell Wednesday evening to cap off an undefeated season and grab an LCAA Championship on its home floor by a 74-69 final in Dansville.
“This feels great. Obviously the girls are really excited. They have put in a lot of work, in-season and in the offseason, and this has been one of our goals — to win the league — for quite a while. The undefeated thing, and the No. 1 seed in sectionals is really just the cherry on top,” said Dansville coach Kristen Moose. “Winning the league, though, was their big goal because it hadn’t been done since 1980. So they’ve been looking up at that banner every single day.”
The Mustangs came out of the gate hot and quickly got its uproarious student section to their feet. Dansville went inside to Jackie Blechinger early and often, and the senior captain made the most of her opportunities as the lead jumped to 7-3 after two minutes and forced a Hornell timeout.
The Mustangs came out after the stoppage and continued to roll offensively. With Blechinger dominating early, it opened things up for the other Dansville players, who quickly pushed the ball up the floor to get some easy layups.
Dansville’s lead grew to double digits early, but Hornell responded in the final few minutes to keep the game close. The Red Raiders followed the lead of their own senior captain, Gabby Lapierre, who forced her way inside on the drive and moved the ball around quickly from the point guard position in order to make it just a 21-15 Dansville advantage after one.
The momentum carried over into the opening minutes of the second quarter for Hornell. The Lady Raiders knocked down some outside shots and ripped off a 9-2 run that gave them the first lead of the night at 24-23.
The teams traded the lead for the next few minutes, but the Mustangs fast-break offense slowly allowed them to take the slim 29-26 lead with around four minutes left in the half.
But that’s when Hornell caught fire.
The Lady Raiders buried four straight 3-pointers as part of a 12-2 run that gave them a 38-31 lead late in the half.
And while Hornell is fueled by its ability to get hot, Dansville’s defining feature is its consistency.
The Mustangs never faltered in their approach of quickly moving the ball up the court to generate layups. Grace Rittenhouse and Hannah LaPlant consistently pushed the pace to get looks inside, and anything that they missed was cleaned up by either Blechinger or Arayana Young.
Dansville ran off an 8-0 run to take back the lead, and then Young knocked down a buzzer beating 3-pointer from the wing in order to give the Lady Mustangs a 42-38 lead after an incredibly exciting half of basketball.
Dansville came out of the intermission and made its current No. 6 ranking look like a huge oversight. The Mustangs were simply incredible in every aspect of the game, and the 11-0 run that ended the half turned into a 20-0 run between the quarters as the lead grew out to 51-38 just two minutes into the third.
“We have a pretty good balance between guards and posts. The guards are able to create as much as they want, and they know that the posts are down there to clean things up. But I think a lot of times our posts are creating for the guards as well with a screen and roll,” said Moose. “They always try and look for each other and distribute the ball, and they pretty much always play together as a team.”
But Hornell was not done. The Lady Raiders took a quick timeout and regrouped on the defensive side of the ball. Hornell made the Mustangs work hard for clean looks and then took the ball and pushed it quickly down the floor for layups and 3-pointers.
The strategy worked slowly but surely, as Hornell chipped away at the lead for the rest of the third quarter, where Dansville took the 58-52 lead into the final eight minutes.
The lead held steady at six points in the first few minutes of the fourth as both teams grounded away on offense in a very tightly contested game.
But at the halfway point in the frame, Dansville slowly started to pull away. Blechinger made a free throw and then Rittenhouse made a pair of great layups as the lead jumped out to 69-58 with just under four minutes left.
Hornell responded with its own 4-0 run to cut the lead back to seven points, setting up an exhilarating finish.
Dansville clung to its slim lead until the very final minute of play, where Hornell made one final attempt to erase the deficit and steal a win on the road.
The Mustangs, however, were impenetrable on the defensive end in that final minute, and Hornell did not score in the final minute until there was under five seconds left and the score was out of reach.
Because of that, Dansville finished off its perfect regular season with a hard-fought 74-69 win over Hornell.
The Mustangs were led by senior captain Jackie Blechinger, who had 22 points in the win. Arayana Young added 19 points while Grace Rittenhouse contributed 18 points. Danville (18-0) now awaits official seedings for the Section V Class B2 tournament, but will likely be the No. 1 overall seed and will host a second round game on Feb. 22.
“We are playing well, but I still don’t think we’ve reached our peak yet. We told the girls to celebrate this until midnight, and then the next morning it's time to refocus. Sectionals is a clean slate for everyone, and you can have a top seed get upset by the bottom seed,” said Moose. “Nothing really matters if you aren’t playing hard and working on getting better every day.”
Hornell was led by Leah Harkenrider’s 20 points. Gabby Lapierre added 18 points while Jaden Sciotti and Chelsie Freeland each chipped in 10. The Lady Raiders (14-5) await Section V Class B1 standings, but currently sit at No. 4 overall and would host No. 5 Pal-Mac on Friday, Feb. 22.
“We knew coming in that they are a really tough matchup for us, especially when both big girls are on the floor. And the first thing we told them in the locker room after the game was that they are now ready for sectionals,” said HHS coach Brian Dyring. “They came into a loud, crazy environment, and went through the entire spectrum of what can happen during a game. There was good and bad, and their coach got after them big time at halftime. They ran the gamut tonight emotionally and physically. We had our chances and we were just two 3-pointers away from taking them down. I’m proud of us.”