When a title is on the line, the determining factor on who takes home the hardware often comes down to who performs better down the stretch.
That was the case for both Amherst and North Tonawanda, both winners in the A-2 and A-1 Section VI championships, respectively, but both did so in different manners at Buffalo State College on Saturday afternoon.
The two will now square off in the overall Class A championship on Tuesday night at Buffalo State.
Amherst flew out of the gate against South Park in the A-2 title game, but after the Sparks battled back, the game went down to the final buzzer and Jordan Barr stole the win.
Desean Ashley (8 points) pushed the ball up court and cut toward the hoop for Amherst. Ashley’s floater from the foul line bounced off the rim but Barr (9 points) grabbed the rebound and scored on the putback as the buzzer went off, stealing the 55-53 win.
“I thought Desean was going to make it and when I saw it bounce off the rim I knew I wasn’t going to have time to go back up so I just tossed it up and it went in,” Barr said.
Amherst had five games this season decided by five or fewer points. The Tigers went 4-1 in those. Amherst coach Chris Kensy said that experience played a huge factor in the outcome.
“We’ve been involved in so many close games throughout the year. I told our team that we’d be prepared,” Kensy said. “We have a group that’s very hungry. We’ve been doubted the entire season.”
The win gave the Tigers back-to-back sectional titles, but it wasn’t easy thanks to South Park’s Shakur Harris. The senior turned a four-point deficit to a one-point lead in a wild final minute, as Harris hit a three-pointer then notched a steal that led to a Jakari Woods (10 points) layup, bringing the score to 52-51.
Seconds later, Marcellus Cooper stole a pass for Amherst then was fouled. Cooper hit two free throws, giving Amherst the lead, 53-52. On a quick dash down the floor, Harris was fouled with 10 seconds left. Harris hit the last of his 26 points and tied the game when he hit the second shot.
“Every time I coach him, (Harris) steps up more and more and more,” South Park coach Pete Hudecki said. “He went from being just a really good ball player, to now being an incredible ball player and a leader.”
Despite Harris’ efforts, Barr’s heroics gave Amherst the win.
“Jordan’s a very good finisher. He was just at the right spot at the right time. He even got hit a little bit but once again, no excuses,” Kensy said.
The loss for South Park means it’s the first time since 1977 that there was not at least one Section VI champion from the Yale Cup.
While not the flashy version that Barr and the Tigers provided in the A-2 final, NT showed just as much grit of a clutch gene.
Trailing 54-47 against Williamsville South in the final quarter, the Lumberjacks finished on a 13-0 run.
During that streak Zack Woodard (11 points) hit a three, Trevor Book (14 points) drove through the middle of the Billies defense for a layup, and then Vince Tripi (12 points) hit a long two, which tied the game at 54.
NT then hit six straight free throws, including four by Tripi, for the 60-54 win over the No. 1 seed, top-ranked large school and winner of the last two A-1 titles.
“This is something that we had a vision of over the summer. We saw it, believed it, felt it, we just had to go out and earn it,” North Tonawanda coach Ryan Mountain said. “We knew it was going to be a dog fight.”
The win for North Tonawanda is its first sectional title since 1961.
Greg Dolan had a game-high 19 points for Williamsvile South.
“Greg was big the whole game for us. He made tons of big layups,” Will South coach Gabe Michael said. “I think they just made more plays down the stretch. It was back and forth the whole game.”