PAVILION — Led by the dynamic senior duo of Lauren Kingsley and Karlee Zinkievich, getting to the sectional championship game has been a rite of passage for Pavilion over the last four seasons.
When the Golden Gophers handled Dundee/Bradford 45-36 for the Section V Class C2 title on March 4, they cemented themselves as one of the top small school programs in the section over the past half-decade with their second straight block of wood, and third in four seasons.
On Saturday, Pavilion will be looking to take it to the next level — one this group has not reached yet — when it takes on Section VI Class C champion Randolph in the New York State Far West Regional Final at Buffalo State University. Tip-off is scheduled for 3 p.m.
Since their magical run to the Class D1 title during the 2019-2020 campaign with Zinkievich and Kingsley as freshmen, along with the likes of senior Lindsay Lowe and juniors Kodi Beehler and Emily Kingsley, the Golden Gophers have been the team to beat in Class C, moving up in class the year after the unexpected title.
That winter, Pavilion suffered through an eight-game losing streak during the regular season. However, it won six of its last seven regular season games to finish at 10-10. The Gophers dominated through the Class D1 tournament, ripping Fillmore 50-37 for the title, before they dropped a heartbreaker to Elba, 50-47, in the Class D crossover before the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled the remainder of the season.
The following season, Pavilion seemed primed to make it two in a row, as it finished the regular season a perfect 10-0. They rolled through the first two rounds of the Class C2 tournament before they were shocked by York 57-49 in the title game.
Since then Pavilion had not let that happen again.
Last season the Golden Gophers were an impressive 20-3, with a win over the same York team in the Class C3 championship contest, before they eventually fell to an excellent East Rochester team in the Class C crossover. ER would advance to the Class C state final four before falling to eventual champion Millbrook.
This season saw some ups and downs for Pavilion, with an inexperienced roster outside of Zinkievich and Kingsley. There was an early-season blowout at the hands of Avon and a one-point loss to Notre Dame in the Rotary Club Tournament final in early January. On Jan. 24, the Golden Gophers were handled by Elba, 50-39, but maybe that was the wakeup call that they needed as they haven’t lost since. From then on, Pavilion has won 11 in a row, including an absolutely dominating performance in a 43-22 victory over Class C1 winner Oakfield-Alabama earlier this week.
Even with the just-above .500 season four years ago, Pavilion has gone an impressive 68-17 over the past four winters.
And the Gophers have no intention of stopping now.
As they have for the past four years, Zinkievich and Kingsley have been the guiding forces. Zinkievich leads the team with 18.5 points per game to go with 4.9 assists, 3.9 steals and 2.5 rebounds per night. Kingsley is just behind, averaging a monster double-double of 18.1 points and 11.5 rebounds per game; the 6-2 forward also averages 4.3 blocks, 2.5 steals and two assists per game.
However, as big as the Gophers’ senior pair has been, they have gotten increasingly important performances from other players as the season has gone on as the experience has grown.
Guard Kylie Conway has been solid with 5.9 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.3 steals and nearly two assists per night. Guard Ella Tillotson has also come into her own of late, averaging 3.5 points, 4.8 assists, 4.3 rebounds and three steals per game, while Makayla Washburn has come on to average 3.8 points and 3.5 boards per night. Those three roll players combined for 16 big points, 14 rebounds and three assists in the sectional final win over Dundee/Bradford.
“Mak, Ella and Kylie have been playing great in this postseason run,” Pavilion head coach Ben Schwenebraten said. “Their improvement from the first day has been tremendous. All three of them are hard workers and very coachable. They have worked themselves into major contributors on both offense and defense. We would not have been as successful this postseason without them.”
The Golden Gophers will get an equally hot Randolph team that has reeled off 12 straight victories. In the Section VI Class C tournament, the Cardinals put up 100 points in a 100-29 win over JFK in the quarterfinals, before they routed Portville by 20 in the semifinals and edged Wilson 54-46 for the Class C block. This all from a team that actually lost its first three games of the season, though they haven’t had a setback since a Jan. 14 defeat at the hands of Nichols.
Two of Randolph’s four losses have come to Nichols, with the other two to Panama and Saint Mary’s of Lancaster — Panama was the Section VI Class D champion.
Like Pavilion, Randolph has also been no stranger to winning over the last couple of seasons.
Last year the Cardinals finished at 19-4, falling in the Class C2 title game, while two years go in the COVID-shortened campaign, they were a perfect 18-0, winning the Class C crown.
Unlike Pavilion, Randolph has been led by a number of underclassmen this winter, including eighth-grade guard Skylar Harrington. Harrington leads the Cardinals with 15 points per game to go with 4.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists and two steals per night.
Senior guard Kyra Pence has also put together a strong campaign with 14 points and a team-high 5.7 rebounds per game to go with 3.7 steals per night.
Sophomore guard Payton Morrison is averaging 12.5 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 2.5 steals, while sophomore guard Quinn Pence has filled the stat sheet with 7.7 points, 4.7 assists, 4.7 steals and four rebounds per night; Katelyn Storer has rounded out this balanced offensive attack with 6.4 points and 5.1 rebounds per game.
Meanwhile, this team likes to shoot it from the outside as the Cardinals have connected on 164 3-pointers on the season at over seven made triples per night.
“Randolph is a very skilled team that likes to get out and run,” Schwenebraten said. “They can really shoot it, with three girls with over 30 3-pointers on the season. Two of the three have made more than 50. Our commitment to defense will have to be at a maximum level. Collectively as a team, we need to contest every shot they take and limit their open looks. On the offensive end, we need to play at our pace and take care of the ball every possession.”
Randolph has scored at least 70 points on seven occasions this season, reaching the 90-point mark three times. On the other side, the most points Pavilion has given up this season was 50 in the loss to Elba. On average, the Golden Gophers are giving up just 38.7 points per game, including just 32.4 in the postseason.
The winner will meet the winner of Section III’s Cooperstown and Section IV’s Union Springs in the Class C Final Four at Hudson Valley Community College at 12:30 on March 18.
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