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Girls basketball teams looking for public, Catholic state titles

Just how big would it be if the Williamsville North girls basketball team had its picture taken while holding up the state championship plaque Saturday night at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy?

It’d be somewhere between gargantuan and huge.

Even those words don’t do enough to describe what it would mean to the Spartans, who are two wins away from not only doing that but also achieving it with a flawless record.

Williamsville North (24-0) looks to complete its historic season in style when it resumes its postseason march at 6:15 p.m. Friday against state power Shenendehowa of Section II in the New York Public High Schools Athletic Association Class AA semifinals. The winner advances to the Class AA final at 8:45 p.m. Saturday night against either I-Ossining or IX-Commack.

North isn’t the only Western New York team making the trip to Troy. Panama returns to HVCC for the second year in a row as the Section VI Class D champions, a year older and a year wiser, and faces II-Fort Edward in a 9 a.m. Saturday semifinal.

The area’s Catholic schools head to various spots in New York City to participate in the state Catholic High School Athletic Association final four. News No. 1 Large School Cardinal O’Hara has the daunting assignment of playing in Class AA where Christ the King or St. Anthony’s (L.I.) awaits should the Hawks get by Monsignor Scanlan.

“We’ve done some research,” Hawks coach Nick O’Neal said. “We feel talent-wise we can compete with most schools. ... We’re going to press. We’re going to run. We’re going to play a lot of girls.”

In other words, O’Hara isn’t going to change a thing as its only two losses came to teams out of state. Sacred Heart faces Notre Dame Academy of Staten Island in the Class A semifinals, while St. Mary’s takes on Sacred Heart of Queens in Class B. The title games are Saturday at St. John Villa.

Two wins this weekend is all it takes for area teams to win a state title. Two victories sound easy but they are the most difficult for any team to attain at this stage of the tournament.

Two wins, though, does serve as a reminder of just how far Williamsville North has come in a relatively short time.

It was during senior Ericka Taplin’s first season on varsity as an eighth-grader when the Spartans experienced the euphoria of victory only twice that year. During senior classmate’s Ally Delano’s freshman season, the Spartans still lost more than they won.

The losing years seemed all but forgotten, until Taplin brought it up during a recent interview, and she’s not the only one who remembers.

“I honestly hoped” then “we would make it to this point,” said Delano, who averages 13.6 points and 4.2 rebounds. “Everyone has contributed to our success. It is kind of amazing going from our freshmen year to right now.”

It’s amazing how North reached this point. The Spartans became the first Section VI team to win the Class AA Far West Regional against the Rochester-area champion when it rallied to beat Penfield, 59-56, last Saturday at Rush-Henrietta.

Of course ending the hex wasn’t easy. The Spartans rallied from a 12-point third quarter deficit in order to make history.

“We have a group of kids who just refuse to lose a game,” coach Bill Shaw said. “They just didn’t quit. I took a quick timeout. I told them every possession is critical. We have to make every possession feel like it was our last and they did it. Their concentration was high. It was amazing how focused they were.”

It’ll take another one of those types of efforts to inch closer to the prize.

Shen (22-2) is ranked fourth in the state. Its only losses came in consecutive fashion against St. Anthony’s (L.I.) and Capital Prep of Connecticut while at a tournament at the end of January. The Plainsmen average 72.4 points and 40.0 points-against per game as they are a well-coached and disciplined outfit, according to Shaw.

North hopes its well-coached, aggressive approach causes Shen fits. The Spartans also hope Taplin (19.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg) continues elevating her game as she has throughout the postseason.

Taplin scored 30 in the regional win, including six points during a key run that enabled North to trim a 12-point deficit to four. She also made four free throws in the final 20 seconds, including two that turned a one-point deficit into a lead the Spartans never relinquished. In the Section VI final, Taplin had 25 points and was a force at both ends of the floor.

“She’s been fabulous. The team feeds off her energy and how hard she plays,” Shaw said. “She doesn’t get high. She doesn’t get low. She just works very, very hard the whole game.”

Again, what would it mean to North to win it all?

“It’d mean a lot to us from starting in eighth grade and only winning two games to going undefeated,” Taplin said. “I think we had a lot of potential to do it last year but this year we have a lot of seniors, older people who have been playing basketball longer and know what they’re doing. … We’re practicing really hard to accomplish that goal.”

Panama’s been doing the same. The Panthers are intent on doing some damage at states this time around after dropping a 57-39 decision to eventual state champion Heuvelton of Section X in last year’s Class D semifinal.

Panama (21-4) once again finds itself kicking off the long Saturday of action at HVCC with a 9 a.m. semifinal against II-Fort Edward (21-3), which beat VII-Moriah, 35-19, in regionals.

email: mrodriguez@buffnews.com

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