Dennis Hinsdale was driving through Clymer when four older women came out of the Dutch Village Restaurant on East Main, recognized his truck, and in unison gave him an enthusiastic thumbs up.
That's a small sampling of the support the Clymer girls basketball coach has enjoyed since his team earned a berth in the New York State Girls Basketball championships.
This Chautauqua County town, population around 1,500, has been in the grips of its own March Madness ever since the Pirates qualified for states. Clymer (18-4) will play John A. Coleman Catholic of Section IX (19-3) on Saturday at 9 a.m. in the Class D semifinals at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy. A win and it plays for the title Sunday at noon.
"You can't go anywhere without someone talking about basketball," said Hinsdale, now in his ninth season.
Clymer's ride started three weeks ago with a field of 75 teams competing in the Section VI tournament. Clymer, the second-smallest school in Section VI with an enrollment of 96 students, is the only team left.
"I've been on cloud nine since we beat Pine Valley in the sectional finals," said Hinsdale. "I think about Tara Bailey and Amy King, and all the kids who played here, but never got the chance [to go to states] because Pine Valley was going every year."
The win over Pine Valley gave Clymer its first Section VI title since 1977-1978. Not only was the win historic, it was also an upset as Pine Valley came into the contest ranked No. 1 in the New York State Sportswriter's poll.
So what could top that?
How about beating Elba of Section V, No. 2 in the state, the following weekend in the Far West Regionals? The Pirates trailed 12-0 and 16-3 before roaring back for the 39-36 victory in Gates-Chili.
Another giant awaits Clymer on Saturday. Coleman Catholic is now No. 1 in the state. Last year it handed Sherman a crushing, 39-36 loss in the title game as junior Taylor Leonard hit a deep, baseline three-pointer in the game's final 12 seconds.
Leonard is one of four senior starters who return. She is the coach's daughter. Hinsdale said he called nine schools from Section IX trying to find out what he could about this year's Coleman Catholic team, but got only one response.
While Coleman Catholic is senior-laden, so is Clymer. Mallory Deuink, Kailyn Bentley, Sydney Bennink, Jenn Rhodes and Andrea Lictus are all senior starters. Hannah Necker and Stephanie Gilkinson, the first two off the bench, are also seniors.
"You can bang your head against the wall [trying to scout]," said Hinsdale. "You might be scouting a good game or a bad game. We have a pretty good idea what we're going to see. I have a lot of confidence in our girls."
Just like the patrons of the Dutch Village Restaurant.
---Mary Jo Monnin
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