By ADAM SHINDER
Recorder Sports Staff
CANAJOHARIE -- Joe Fowler had seen 32 minutes of his Canajoharie Lady Cougars and the Dolgeville Blue Devils try -- overwhelmingly unsuccessfully -- to put the ball in the basket, but he was still beaming.
On the court, it was sloppy. In the box score, it was a 51-29 win for Canajoharie in the opening round of its tip-off tournament Friday night. For Fowler, it was something even more significant: A win in his first game as Lady Cougars varsity coach after taking over for Marie Stahler.
"We're awful young," Fowler said. "This is a young group. We've got three seniors, and I've got four or five sophomores. It's a young group, but the tentativeness I think will disappear in the next couple of games."
"It's out of the way," he added. "It's a good win."
Sophomore Alexis Kane scored a team-high 10 points to pace a balanced effort for Canajoharie (1-0), which will host Fonda-Fultonville in the championship game of the tournament tonight at 7 p.m. Dainara Veeder chipped in nine points, while Kara Schwab and Lauren Balfe each scored eight.
Depth and balance were paramount all night for the Lady Cougars, who overcame inconsistent execution on offense with an aggressive full-court press that was aided by Fowler's strategy of substituting players in groups of five every couple of minutes from the midway point of the second quarter on.
"They are a hustling group. We've got the luxury of being able to put in a group and not really lose too much," Fowler said. "We can change all five and not lose too much. The talent is about balanced."
Canajoharie's defense was stifling from the start, limiting Dolgeville to just four field goals the entire first half in opening up a 21-8 lead. The Blue Devils struggled massively from the floor, making just 11 baskets the entire night -- none of them coming more than 10 feet away from the hoop.
The rim was even shut on Dolgeville from close range, with layups and putbacks refusing to drop as the Blue Devils were unable to take advantage of the times when their pressure defense forced Canajoharie into mistakes.
"We had a tough time getting shots to go," said Dolgeville coach Shane Morrill. "We just couldn't capitalize on anything."
Canajoharie saw its lead shrink to eight points midway through the third quarter, but six straight points to end the third and a 3-pointer from Kane to start the fourth ballooned the lead to 17. Dolgeville fought its way to within 11 points, but Canajoharie shut the door with a pair of layups from Jenelle Dillenbeck before Katherine Rockwell drilled a 3-pointer from the corner with 4:33 to play to make it 40-22.
The Lady Cougars only made four 3-pointers on the night, but all were crucial, with Lauren Balfe knocking down a pair to stretch the lead to double digits in the first half before Kane and Rockwell helped squash any notion of a Dolgeville comeback.
"It gets them a little confidence in themselves, knowing that they can hit that shot," Fowler said.
With the first win under their belts, the Lady Cougars are looking forward to tonight's tilt with Montgomery County rival Fonda-Fultonville and an opportunity to win their hometown tip-off tournament.
"Hopefully, we'll win tomorrow night," Kane said. "I think if we fast break a lot and keep the pressure on them, we will."