On a night in which fans anticipated witnessing a potential historic moment in Western New York scholastic sports, Williamsville South and North Tonawanda also did something most folks have been waiting for all season.
Both teams punched their tickets to the Section VI Class A-1 boys basketball title game with victories Tuesday night during the first two games of a semifinal tripleheader at Buffalo State Sports Arena. Both teams did so by beating teams they know very well.
Two-time defending Class A champion Williamsville South earned the right play for another title by beating old friend McKinley, 63-51. Greg Dolan and Dakota Wiley shouldered the scoring for a Billies team that aspires to win its third straight championship.
"You always look forward to this all year," said Dolan, who scored all of his game-high 26 points after the first quarter. "Different group of guys but it's always fun."
South plays an NT team that shared the Niagara Frontier League title and had no trouble dispatching league rival Grand Island, 64-34.
Nine different players scored for the Lumberjacks, who reached the final for the second time in three seasons in their quest to win their first sectional title since 1961.
"We had a vision at the beginning of the season of winning this championship," NT coach Ryan Mountain said. "Now we have to earn it."
The championship game is at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the Buffalo State Sports Arena.
Those among the estimated 2,000 in attendance for A-1 semifinals saw two teams who usually meet at Buffalo State gather once again in Will South and McKinley.
It's the eighth time in nine seasons the two teams have played in either a semifinal or championship game here. Add to the mix that these two teams have won the past nine A-1 championships between them, oh baby throw the seeds out of the gym.
It played out that way during the opening 16 minutes with fourth-seeded McKinley giving the top seeds all they could handle. Wiley and Dolan took turns steadying the Billies in this one.
With the Billies struggling early, including Dolan, Wiley took charge of the offense. He drained a pair of threes and scored 12 of his 20 points during the first half. South led at halftime, 27-23.
"Dakota kept us afloat when we weren't playing well," South coach Gabe Michael said.
McKinley (15-7) pulled within two early in the third quarter, but the Billies (19-3) responded with a 7-0 run to highlight an 18-10 period. South took a 45-33 lead into the final quarter.
Dolan did what he tends to do, rise to the moment as he scored 10 points during the third and also had a nice dribble, drive and dish to Mark Worthy for a layup to cap the Billies' offensive burst.
After McKinley pulled within 45-41, Dolan dribbled around the baseline and found Devin Degree open behind the arc for a three-pointer with 5:28 left to blunt the Macks' comeback bid.
"The first game at Buffalo State is always the most difficult to play well," Michael said. "And McKinley makes it real difficult to play well but I'm real pleased with how we closed the game out."
North Tonawanda fans didn't start chanting it's all over until late in the fourth quarter even though the Lumberjacks (18-4) all but closed its semifinal out earlier than that against a Grand Island (15-7) team it beat 63-51 en route to earning a share of the Niagara Frontier League title.
North Tonawanda scored the first seven points of the game and 16 of the first 18 in the first quarter to put this one out of reach in a hurry. Book scored five points in the first quarter, while Rory Farkas had six points.
Book and Farkas each finished with 12 points to lead the Jacks.
NT's 2-3 zone made it tough for the Vikings to get the ball inside. Mix in Grand Island's struggles with its outside shooting and it's easy to see why NT had a 27-9 lead with just under 4 minutes to go in the second quarter – a Vincent Tripi layup.
"We just tried to play as hard as we could on defense," Mountain said.