CANAJOHARIE - When the Canajoharie Lady Cougars went into the locker room at halftime, they were trailing by 10 and struggling to keep pace with the Middleburgh Knights.
Slowly, however, things started to change.
Canajoharie chipped away at the deficit until Lauren Balfe stepped to the 3-point line with five seconds remaining in the third period. She calmly knocked down the basket, giving the Lady Cougars a 1-point lead.
Canajoharie’s Dainara Veeder tries to dribble past Middleburgh’s Carley Ryan during Wednesday’s Western Athletic Conference crossover girls basketball game at Canajoharie High School. (The Leader-Herald/Mike Zummo)
"I had a feeling it was going to fall, and it did. Then it dropped, and I just had an adrenaline rush," Balfe said.
They only trailed one more time in a Western Athletic Conference crossover game they would go on to win, 41-37, on Wednesday night.
After entering the third quarter trailing 20-10, Balfe's key 3-pointer put Canajoharie ahead 28-27, giving the third-place team out of the WAC North all the momentum and leaving Middleburgh, which finished third in the WAC South, searching for answers.
"I think that really pumped us up because we were up and we were going into this game as the underdog and it really pumped us up," Balfe said. "It got us in the mode to play and got us going."
It also may have provided the Lady Cougars with some good basketball karma.
After Taylor Cater gave the lead back to Middleburgh with a layup, Alexis Kane was fouled on a putback attempt by Kendra Wood.
Kane landed and her shot kept bouncing and bouncing and bouncing until finally falling through the net, sending the lead back to Canajoharie with 5:53 remaining in the game. Kane failed to convert the three-point play, but Dainara Veeder was there to clean things up as she rebounded the missed free throw, putting it back for a 32-29 Canajoharie lead.
"It finally went our way," Canajoharie coach Joe Fowler said. "It was a great win for the girls. They've been working hard all year. They knew they could win a big game and they finally proved it to themselves."
Meanwhile on the opposite bench, Middleburgh coach Greg Johns was burning through his allotted timeouts trying to keep his team in the game. By the time the fourth quarter started, he could only stop play once.
"They wanted the game more than we did," Johns said. "They were on the ground for loose balls better than we were. They just outworked us."
Despite getting ahead of the Lady Knights, Canajoharie had difficulty gaining separation as Amanda Roney pulled the game back to within one, when she scored off an offensive rebound with 4:20 to go.
However, Canajoharie's Abby Dearwester answered with two straight layups to give the Lady Cougars (10-7 overall) a five-point lead.
"Finally, they played a good second half," Fowler said. "They played a great man-to-man. The man-to-man hurt Middleburgh, then we were able to play an inside game. We put in some extra plays over the week and we got to play an inside game, which we usually don't. I think it surprised them."
The Lady Knights (8-7 overall) cut the lead to 38-37 with 23.3 seconds left after two straight baskets by Roney, but Veeder hit the front end of a one-and-one and Roney was called for an intentional foul against Jenelle Dillenbeck.
Dillenbeck knocked down both free throws, giving the Lady Cougars a 41-37 lead and Canajoharie got the ball and closed out the game.
"I think [this game] going to get us ready for sectionals because we know we can beat good teams," Balfe said.
Balfe finished with 12 points, and made two key 3-pointers. Her other long-range shot came 1:24 remaining in the first quarter. It gave Canajoharie its first points of the game and cut Middleburgh's early lead to 5-3.
Roney answered Balfe with two straight baskets, giving Middleburgh a 9-3 lead after the first eight minutes.
Roney finished with a game-high 15 points and Taylor Cater added 10.
Only four players scored for the Lady Knights.
"When you're making shots, it makes all the difference and we didn't shoot the ball well at all in the first half and were still up, 20-10," Johns said. "We just couldn't convert. As soon as they started coming back against us, we just kind of faded."
Canajoharie 41, Middleburgh 37
Middleburgh9 11 7 10 - 37
Canajoharie3 7 18 13 - 41
Ryan 3-0-6, Cater 4-2-10, Roney 7-1-15, Paser 3-0-6. Totals: 17-3-37.
Balfe 5-0-12, Dillenbeck 1-3-5, Bowerman 2-0-4, Kane 2-0-4, Logan 0-1-1, Dearwester 3-0-6, Veeder 4-1-9. Totals: 17-5-41.
3-point goals: Middleburgh - none; Canajoharie 2 (Balfe 2)