TROY - There are plenty of good high school basketball teams in the area, but only four remain in their respective Section II tournaments. The Johnstown Lady Bills, the only girls team remaining, don't plan on bowing out any time soon.
When asked if his squad was playing its best basketball of the season through its first two playoff games, Johnstown head coach coach Tim Derwin's answer was definitive.
"Without a doubt," Derwin said. "I've been coaching varsity for eight seasons and I don't think I've ever had a group that still wanted to play so much at this point in the year and that's really important."
Led by Hope Cerasuolo, who is averaging more than 15 points this season, the third-seeded Lady Bills are one win away from the Class B finals. They will travel to Troy today to face Watervliet in the semis.
After starting the season 6-4, the Lady Bills were admittedly not where they had hoped to be. With six winnable games in a row on their schedule, Derwin challenged his team to hold a record of 12-4 before their final two games against Class A opponents Queensbury and Glens Falls. They won all six by an average of 16.2 points.
The Lady Bills fell in their final two games of the regular season, something Derwin and his team took with a grain of salt.
- What: Section II Class B Semifinals
- When: Today, 6 p.m.
- Where: Troy High School
- The matchup: No. 3 Johnstown (14-6) vs. No. 2 Watervliet (18-2)
- What's at stake: The winner advances to Saturday's Section II Class B championship game at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy at 1:45 p.m. against the winner of the other semifinal game between No. 1 Tamarac (18-2) and No. 4 Schalmont (14-6)
"I don't think it phased them a bit," Derwin said. "Win or lose, those were just excellent games to have to prepare us for sectionals. They looked at it as a preparation."
The Lady Bills have seven seniors on their roster, but Derwin says his team has more than just senior leadership. Annie Stock and Megan Anagnostopulos have stepped up as juniors to play key roles for Johnstown and Derwin said the accountability does not stop there.
"This group right here is just focused on working hard and finishing the season strong. They don't want to lose," said Derwin. "You always have a kid or two or three that are focused, but as a group of 13 kids, I walked out of practice tonight and I just couldn't believe how hard they worked."
Through the long, grueling season, the most consistent aspect of Johnstown's game has been Cerasuolo. The do-everything senior has been steady all season to the delight of her coach.
"It's been fun to watch Hope mature from a 10th-grader that didn't play much to now a senior that's really put it all together," Derwin said, "She's our MVP, there's no other way to put it. Without Hope we wouldn't be where we are."
Watervliet, the second seed in the Class B bracket, has long been Johnstown's nemesis. A strong contender in Class B every season, the Lady Cannoneers beat Johnstown in the finals in 2009 and in the second round in 2007. They are a quick, athletic team but Derwin feels his girls match up well.
"They trap rebounds, they trap post, they trap wing, they trap half-court, they wear you down," Derwin said. "By saying that I don't think we give up a single thing athletically and we're a little bigger. I don't think we give up anything skill-wise as basketball players, so I think we match up very well and I like our chances."
The Lady Bills will look to continue their sectional run today at Troy High School at 6 p.m.