For about eight minutes, it appeared the battle between The News' top-ranked boys small schools in the Section VI Class B-1 semifinals would be an epic struggle.
But then it turned into a monumental mismatch, again. No. 1 Lackawanna simply asserted its will in overwhelming No. 2 East Aurora, 68-53, Monday night in the Buffalo State Sports Arena.
The Steelers carried a 16-13 lead into the second quarter, but then they quickened the pace, forcing 10 turnovers during a 22-7 blitz. The only thing that went right for the Blue Devils during that eight-minute stretch was Marcus Rivers hitting the back iron on a dunk attempt after soaring over three defenders. Rivers still scored 10 of his 19 points and made three of his five steals during the second-quarter onslaught to help Lackawanna (21-1) reach its fourth straight sectional final.
"We knew what they were going to do to try to break the press. We just had to adjust to it," Steelers coach Tim Foley said. "We got active. We're focused in on Saturday."
Lackawanna will face a reincarnated East program for the title at 1:45 p.m. Saturday at Buffalo State.
East, a basketball power before closing its doors in the late 1970s, earned a chance to play for its first sectional title with a 55-46 win over Medina.
An estimated 2,200 fans showed up for the basketball tripleheader, which tipped off with City Honors earning the right to defend its Class B-2 title with a 47-36 win over Gowanda.
Lackawanna made a steal seconds into the second quarter. Although Leshawn Blackburn made just 1 of 2 free throws after being fouled during a layup attempt following the theft, that proved to be a sign of things to come. In one stretch in the quarter, the Steelers forced three steals, blocked a shot and forced a shot-clock violation to turn a 26-16 lead into an 18-point advantage in 51 seconds.
This is the second straight season Lackawanna has gone 3-0 against East Aurora (18-4).
"To be down three after the first quarter, I was real happy with our boys," Blue Devils coach Gary Schutman said. "It was a shame to see it fall apart. I give Lackawanna a lot of credit. They have great athletes."
Blackburn (five steals) and Steve Kozaczka (11 rebounds, five blocks) each scored 15 points for the Steelers. Each poured in 10 points during the third quarter as Lackawanna carried a 62-36 lead into the fourth. Zack McTique had 23 to lead EA.
Starling Bryant has coached many games at the Buffalo State Sports Arena over the years. But East's coach admitted it took him a little time to get used to what he was watching during warmups.
"I'm looking at black and gold and I'm so used to seeing Traditional stuff," said Bryant, who led Traditional to eight sectional titles. "Once we got warmed up that chapter was over and done with."
"It feels different because with Traditional we had a name," said sophomore Jamal Webb, who led the Panthers with 19 points. "Now that we're East, we have to make a name for ourselves."
The Panthers trailed 37-36 with 2:29 left in the third but closed out Medina with a 19-9 run. David Laguerre's coast-to-coast layup gave East the lead for good, 38-37, with 1:55 left in the third quarter. Antonio Speed (15 points, 12 rebounds, three blocks) followed with a jumper and Laguerre's steal led to Webb's three-pointer to close the quarter.
Reserve James Bryant provided a spark in the fourth quarter with the Mustangs' defense focused on Webb. With East clinging to a 45-42 lead with 5:23 left, Bryant drained a pair of free throws, made a steal that led to a Webb layup and scored on a layup of his own as the Panthers led by nine two minutes later. Bryant finished with four points, four rebounds, three steals and one block.
Casey Tuohey led Medina (16-6) with 16 points.
City Honors played a rather sloppy game offensively against Gowanda's 1-1-3 match-up zone. But the Centaurs (12-11) limited the Panthers to 19-of-53 shooting from the floor in winning a rematch of last year's semifinals. The Centaurs will face the winner of today's semifinal between JFK and Burgard at noon Saturday at Buffalo State.
Randy Muldrow led City Honors with 16 points, while Abram Miller added 14 and 10 rebounds. Frank John led Gowanda (14-8) with 14 points.