AUBURN — The Panthers rode a strong defensive effort to cruise to the county title game.

Port Byron girls basketball kept alive its hopes for the program’s first Cayuga County Holiday Tournament championship with a 57-31 win over Union Springs Wednesday at Cayuga Community College. The Panthers led 30-17 at halftime and outscored the Wolves 13-8 in the final quarter.

“We’re really, really excited to play in the championship game,” Port Byron coach Mindy Gilbert said. “We’ve been there before and fallen short a few times so the kids are really psyched and looking forward to this. They’ve worked really hard and this tournament is something they always look forward.”

Jordyn Baker paced Port Byron with a team-high 14 points while Ava Mills also reached double figures with 10. Keyara Allen and Sarah Mapley both scored six points.

Telona White finished with 11 points for the Wolves and Renee Park chipped in with nine.

Port Byron nearly matched season bests in both points for and points against, but it was the defense that keyed the win. The 31 points against is the lowest mark the Panthers have allowed since the season opener against Fabius-Pompey.

“We talk about defense and how defense is the key to the game,” Gilbert said. “Defense will create your offense so we always pride ourself on the defensive end. We had a lot of traps going. They were aggressive and trying to get some tips from behind, so I think that definitely led to offense.”

The Panthers held control for most of the contest, jumping out to a 12-point lead in the first quarter before a 13-point halftime lead. Union Springs tried to pressure Port Byron into mistakes during the final 16 minutes, but the Panthers controlled the ball and avoided mistakes to cruise to the win.

“I tell them to value the basketball and each possession is crucial,” Gilbert said. “They were patient and working the offense, and stayed composed the whole time. I think that was the difference.”

Now Port Byron moves on to the championship where it’ll face either Southern Cayuga or Weedsport. The Panthers are looking for their first county title in the 18-year history of the girls tournament — the junior varsity won its tournament in 2015.

“We’ve already talked a little bit,” Gilbert said. “It doesn’t matter who we play. … If they play as hard as they can and leave it all on the floor that’s all you can ever ask of them. Whatever happens happens.”

Sports writer Justin Ritzel can be reached at 282-2257 or at justin.ritzel@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @CitizenRitz.

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Sports Reporter