It was a more competitive regular season than what has been typical for Buffalo Seminary’s basketball team, but victories remained difficult to come by for the program.
According to coach Eva Cunningham, her team lacked composure late in games throughout an 8-10 regular season, which included only one Monsignor Martin league win. That has not been an issue so far in the league playoffs.
Buffalo Seminary won its second game of the postseason Sunday at Villa Maria College, scoring the final eight points of the MMAA Class B semifinal to upset Mount Mercy, 36-31. Class B’s fourth seed, which defeated Niagara Catholic in the play-in game, had lost to No. 1 Mount Mercy by 16 points during the regular season.
“We hadn’t won too many games this season but it was good to see all of our hard work throughout the course of the season pay off tonight,” Cunningham said. “This was a huge win for our program, and school, to be honest.”
Buffalo Seminary will meet Nardin Academy in the final of Class B – which consists of the league’s bottom five regular season finishers -- after the Gators were runaway winners over Park School, 55-28, in the other semifinal. The game will be played Saturday at 4 p.m. at Villa Maria College. Nardin won a tight 36-34 game when it played Buffalo Seminary in the regular season.
“Buffalo Seminary is making a statement in the league so hopefully we can rise to the occasion,” Nardin coach Kendra Brim said.
In Class A, the league’s top-seed Cardinal O’Hara will be playing for a fourth straight MMAA title after upending No. 4 St. Mary’s, 58-35, behind nine different scorers and a smothering defense. Western New York power O’Hara, which hasn’t lost to a Buffalo-area team all season, overcame on early challenge from the Lancers by ending the third quarter on a 14-0 run and stretching their lead to 22 points heading into the fourth.
“I think St. Mary’s did an outstanding job trying to slow us down and not allowing us to play our tempo,” O’Hara coach Nick O’Neil said. “It took us a half to get going, but once we do it’s kind of hard to stop us. We have a lot of scorers.”
The Hawks will meet second-seeded Sacred Heart in a rematch of last year’s Class A final on Saturday at 6 p.m. The Sharks defeated No. 3 Mount Saint Mary, 52-37, in a rubber match between the two teams and the final game of Sunday’s quadruple-header. The teams had split close regular season matches, each winning in their home gym.
“We just have to play as fundamentally sound as we can against O’Hara and we know it’s going to be a very tough game,” Sacred Heart coach Jack Coppola said.
In Class B, Buffalo Seminary’s feisty 5-foot-3 point guard Samantha Burlow recorded six of her team’s final eight points, including nailing a three-pointer to tie the game, 31-31, with 1:20 remaining. The senior, who finished with 13 points, scored the winning point on a free throw with 37 seconds left, and she and sophomore teammate Bridget Conboy each knocked down two more at the charity stripe down the stretch.
“No one believed that we could actually make it to the championship, so it’s just a great feeling for us,” Burlow said. “Our mentality was that we could do it.”
Senior Grace Gallagher scored a team-high 14 points for Buffalo Seminary, while Mt. Mercy senior Mallory Ashe led her team with 9 points.
Brim wasn’t sure how Nardin would react come game time after having only five or six of her players at practices during February break, but the time off turned out to be no issue as the Gators stormed out to a 27-7 halftime lead. Nardin was led by senior Sydney Scello with 15 points, sophomore Lindsay Karas’ 12 and senior Alexandra Hartnett’s 9. Senior Precious Adamson scored a team-high 10 points for Park.
“I think this is the most we’ve played as a team all year,” said Brim, whose team improved to 9-11. ‘They played hard and stepped up when it counts.”
O’Hara’s balanced offensive attack was led by senior Shilah Parker’s nine points, while Robbyn Sommerville, Kiara Johnson, Anndea Zeigler and Corean Dickson each added eight. St. Mary’s (19-5), which led 11-6 early in the game, was paced by 10 points each from senior Courtney Kline and sophomore Caroline Zanghi.
Sacred Heart (17-7) got 20 points from freshman Siobhan Ryan, while Elizabeth Hill added 10 in the win. Senior Kelly Burns scored a team-high 15 points for Mt. St. Mary (17-8), which trailed 38-29 after three quarters and got as close as 40-36 with five minutes left in the game.
“We knew they were just going to keep coming at us and play a tough and physical game, so we told our girls to just keep playing their game, and then it broke open,” Coppola said.
The Hawks (20-5) will play in Class AA in state competition, as they did last season, so regardless of the MMAA Class A final result Sacred Heart also will advance past Saturday. O’Hara defeated Sacred Heart by 24 points during the regular season.
“It’s a tough road and I like it, but when we get in games like this it’s kind of tough for the girls because we’re looking at the next game and what’s ahead,” O’Neil said. “It’s human nature.”
-- Mike Petro, Special to The News