Sleepwalking through an overtime win over Burgard was just the wake-up call Lackawanna needed.
Playing with the focus and desire that was lacking against Burgard, Lackawanna overwhelmed Penn Yan of Section V, 58-34, Saturday afternoon to take the Far West Regional Class B championship at the Buffalo State Sports Arena.
Senior center Steve Kozaczka had 18 points, 10 rebounds and six blocked shots and junior swingman Marcus Rivers added 13 points and 12 boards to lead the Steelers (24-1), ranked No. 1 in the New York State poll, to the NYSPHSAA tournament in Glens Falls. They will face Wyandanch (19-5) of Section XI in the semifinals Friday at 8:30 p.m.
Lackawanna considered itself lucky to be alive after struggling past Burgard in the Section VI Class B title game last Tuesday. There would be no letdown against decided underdog Penn Yan (13-11).
An estimated crowd of 1,500 saw the Steelers use their full-court pressure defense to build a comfortable lead early and cruise to the state Final Four for the first time since 1989.
"It was a long time coming," said Lackawanna coach Tim Foley. "We thought we had a couple of other chances. In 2003, we lost to Olean in the sectional final and last year we lost to a hot team in Palmyra-Macedon. Things kind of fell in place for us and the kids did a great job. This is what they wanted all year."
Lackawanna assumed control of the game by ripping off 13 straight points to take a 13-3 lead in the first quarter.
The run was ignited by the Steelers' defense, which allowed them to convert turnovers into easy baskets in transition.
"Defense is what we're about," Rivers said. "That's how we get our quick points. We had to play better team defense because when we went against Burgard we got too big-headed thinking it was going to be an easy game. But against Penn Yan, our coach emphasized that defense wins games and it did."
Bob Nolan (10 points), a 6-foot-7 senior, kept Penn Yan in the game by scoring inside on aggressive drives to the basket. But an 8-0 run pushed the Steelers to a 29-14 lead at halftime.
Lackawanna put the game away in the third quarter, using a 10-0 spurt to grab a commanding 44-19 advantage. It was just a matter of what the final score would be because the outcome had been decided.
"I think the one thing that bothered us that we couldn't get off a tape or from talking to people was [Lackawanna's] physicalness," Penn Yan coach Chuck Roach said. "They are definitely a physical team."
As Lackawanna headed into the locker room, the joy was evident. But the players kept the giddiness to a minimum. As satisfying as Saturday's win was the Steelers still have sights on a larger goal.
"We want to win a state championship," Kozaczka said. "We definitely know we have two more games to get there. Then we can start celebrating."