Season comes down to “Battle by the Lake” for Women’s Basketball

Yes, it is a rivalry game but there is much more riding on Saturday’s game against Fredonia University.

With the final SUNYAC playoff spot up for grabs heading into this weekend, the SUNY Buffalo State Women’s Basketball team looks to capture that spot and return to SUNYAC playoff competition for the first time since 2015.

The Bengals have momentum on their side as they storm into Saturday’s contest versus the Blue Devils of Fredonia on a three-game winning streak while playing their best basketball of the season.

This late season push has instilled some fire into the team heading into this ‘win or go home’ contest Saturday.

“It gives us confidence because we know if we don’t win it’s our last game. We know what’s at stake,” Caleh McLean stated. “We have the ability on this team to win that game.”

Before the heavily anticipated match-up versus Fredonia, the Bengals hosted visiting Morrisville College in a non-conference nail-biter Thursday night. Trailing for the first three-quarters, Buffalo State would use a strong fourth quarter with the help of a 16-0 scoring run to just barely sneak past the Mustangs 69-67.

“The press in the fourth quarter worked for us and being able to get turnovers off of that helped us come back,” Coach Kevin Clifford stated following the game. “It sped them up a little bit and Liv (LeBaron) and Caleh (McLean) made some plays late. Jenna Lee also came in and helped us late too with their big.”

Buffalo State ended with three players in double figures for points on the night. Guard Grace Licata drilled in five 3-pointers and ended up with 15 points. Forward Liv LeBaron made her impression on both ends of the court ending with a team-high 18 points, nine rebounds, three assists, and three steals. Finally, McLean added 17 points, nine rebounds, four assists, and two steals.

“This game was perfect for us because they (Morrisville) played a 2-3 zone and that is exactly what Fredonia does,” LeBaron stated following the win.

Before the win over Morrisville, the Bengals’ two otherpreviouss victories came against SUNY Oswego and SUNY Cortland. Those two wins were avenged for loses that Buffalo State took on its home court earlier in the season.

In the course of this three-game winning streak from the Bengals, guard Caleh McClean and forward Liv LeBaron has been Buffalo State’s premier players. In the last three games, LeBaron has averaged 16 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 2.6 steals. While McLean has averaged 16 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and three steals.

While Buffalo State has found recent success, they have also found themselves in some serious struggles throughout the season. The Bengals have had losing streaks of three (three times) and four games. The four-game losing streak came just before this current three-game surge.

So, how does a team with three, three-game losing streaks, as well as a four-game losing streak, still have a shot at a SUNYAC playoff position? The answer can be seen on Clifford’s office door, ‘#Refuse2Lose’.

“They really embraced the team motto in the last month or so being as how they refuse to lose with Caleh and Moe (Mariah Rosario) wanting to go out of their senior year on top,” Clifford said of his team’s attitude.

LeBaron agreed.

“Every time we find ourselves in a slump we have been able to dig ourselves out. It’s taken us longer sometimes but other times we were able to figure it out sooner,” LeBaron stated. “The fact that we just went on a three-game winning streak right when the playoffs are about to start is perfect for us.”

History in this “Battle by the Lake” rivalry is on the side of Fredonia. Since the first game between these two schools back in 1965, the Blue Devils have led the series 62-21.

When these two teams met earlier in the season, Buffalo State fell on their home court in a crushing fourth-quarter collapse with the final reading of 78-67. Buffalo State was outscored 32-13 in that deciding quarter and senior guard McLean knows full well what must be done the next time around on Saturday.

“If we want to beat this team, we have to play all four quarters, play defense especially all four quarters. We also have to know how they play, and know their weaknesses,” said LaBaron.

If the Bengals can come out with a win on Saturday they would break the three-year drought for Women’s Basketball in the SUNYAC playoff competition.

The last appearance came back in 2015, but the last win in the SUNYAC playoffs came back in the 2012 semi-finals where they defeated SUNY Cortland 76-31.

LeBaron is aware of Buffalo State’s recent struggles about getting into SUNYAC post-season play and how this team is capable of changing that.

“The history hasn’t been on our side in SUNYAC’s as well as some losing seasons lately,” LeBaron said. “But this team is playing so well together right now and the team chemistry is fantastic.”

In order to win the Bengals will need to forget the overall record against Fredonia and the fourth quarter on Dec. 27th and remember the three-game winning streak and the team chemistry that has grown throughout the year.

Refuse. To. Lose.