It's the end of the girls basketball regular season and that can mean only one thing -- Lockport is playing its best ball of the year.
Is there any better way to ride into the postseason than beating Nichols and Pioneer on back-to-back nights in your own Lockport Kiwanis Tournament? Lockport senior Lindsey Burke has been in the zone the past two games. She scored 32 points against Pioneer in a 59-54 victory Saturday and 26 points against Nichols in a 61-56 win Friday. The victory over Nichols was the 300th in coach Bill Shaw's career.
For Lockport, this year's Niagara Frontier League champion, it's all about winning when the calendar reads late February.
"He doesn't care what his record is. If he happens to win the league, he wins the league," said Section VI chairman Leo Kaminsky. "He's gone to regionals with teams no one ever thought he would. So many people are hung up on standings and the cherry wins they can get. That's not in his nature."
The Lady Lions (17-3, 13-1) enter the 34th annual Section VI tournament for girls as the No. 1 seed in Class AA. They open their postseason Thursday in the quarterfinals against the winner of tonight's Niagara-Wheatfield-West Seneca West game.
Jamestown was in position to earn the No. 1 seed for the fourth year in a row until its stunning loss to Frontier in the regular-season finale. That made Lockport the No. 1 seed and gave Williamsville North a share of the ECIC I title.
The loss also set up the possibility of semifinal games between teams from the same league always unpopular among coaches. Williamsville North and Jamestown of the ECIC would meet in one semifinal and Lockport and Kenmore West of the NFL in the other.
Jamestown is still the three-time defending Section VI champ. Two-time All-WNY guard Erinne Cunningham and center Sadie Breen constantly make big baskets. Cunningham is the Red Raiders' career and single-season record holder in assists, steals and three-pointers.
Favorite: No. 1 seed Lockport beat three teams ranked in the Western New York top 10 last week.
Challengers: No. 2 Williamsville North, No. 3 Jamestown and No. 4 Kenmore West can win and all have been ranked in WNY for most of the year. They are fast, quick and physical. Lockport, North and Jamestown have 6-footers who can play. Kenmore West is the only local team to beat Lockport this year.
Sleepers: A sectional title would be North's first. Sophomore Corrine Genovese has a nice supporting cast for the Spartans, the ECIC I co-champions. . . . Don't look past Orchard Park, winner of 11 games in ECIC I.
Best matchups before ECC: No. 6 Frontier pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the season by winning at Jamestown. If it gets past No. 11 Clarence tonight, it earns a return trip to Jamestown on Thursday.
Favorite: No. 1 seed Williamsville East has won a title in three of the past four years.
Challengers: Kenmore East or Grand Island would like to win this one for the Niagara Frontier League. Kenmore East has a win over Williamsville East, 39-37, but it came in the third game of season.
Sleeper: No. 4 Grand Island may have five league losses, but they were to Lockport and Kenmore East twice and Kenmore West once.
Best matchup before ECC: Kenmore East and Sweet Home could meet in the semifinals. East beat Sweet Home earlier, 73-57, but Sweet Home can be scary with Bianca Smiley and Ellie Allen. Allen, the program's all-time leading scorer, had 23 points in the first meeting with East, but Joelle Pollak of the Bulldogs answered with a 33-point game.
Favorite: No. 1 seed Pioneer should have no trouble winning its third title in a row. The Panthers won ECIC III with a 12-0 record and the floor at ECC seems like home.
Challengers: How good are the three Canisius Cup teams? East, South Park and Bennett are the 2-3-4 seeds. East won some big games down the stretch to earn a share of the league title.
Sleeper: Amherst got a boost offensively with the midseason addition of McKinley transfer Shaquita Smith. . . . Depew is in the opposite half of the bracket from Pioneer. But for the past four years they've been one-and-done in the postseason.
Best matchup before ECC: Niagara-Orleans League champion Albion looks to give Pioneer a game in the semis if both teams win first-rounders.
Favorite: Just like last year, No. 1 seed Olean may have to go through its own league to win. It could meet Fredonia in the semifinals. Olean won CCAA I while Fredonia tied for second. "They're playing much better than they were at the beginning of the year," said Olean coach Don Scholla. Rachel Bantelman, Alica Stebbins and Rachel Kasperski are the keys to an Olean repeat.
Challengers: Fredonia's Grace Moore and Mary Kate Bongiovanni look to extend their senior years at the expense of Olean in the semis.
Sleeper: East Aurora struggled this year after moving up to ECIC III, but it is playoff-tested. Ten of its 12 league games were against Class A-2 teams.
Best matchup before ECC: Lackawanna-Tonawanda III awaits if both win their playoff openers. The teams won on each other's floor during the regular season. It was the Steelers' only league loss of the year in ECIC IV. Tonawanda put together one of its best seasons in years with a 16-4 overall record.
Favorite: No. 3 seed Allegany-Limestone plays in CCAA I, the league that has produced at least one sectional champion in each of the past five years. The Gators have won four sectional titles in the past five years.
Challengers: No. 2 Wilson is in Allegany-Limestone's half of the bracket. Wilson starts four juniors including Jessica Curry, who had 18, 30 and 20 points in her last three games.
Sleeper: Canisius Cup co-champion City Honors is the No. 1 seed for the second year in a row and looks to avoid last year's first-round exit.
Best matchup before ECC: Wilson and Allegany-Limestone could meet in the semifinals.
"Their lowest score has been in the 50s this year, so they're putting up some points," said Wilson coach Brian Baker. "They lost to Olean twice, but they're the big-time favorite. Their league is fantastic." . . . Defending Class B-2 champion Falconer gets a shot at Allegany-Limestone in the first round.
Favorite: Can anybody touch No. 1 seed Salamanca? The Warriors have four solid players who can score: Ashley Abrams, Katie Auge, Hannah Reynolds and Brittany Haines, as well as a nice bench. Their 16 wins includes two double-digit victories over Franklinville.
Challengers: There's only one player who can claim she's the career scoring leader in Western New York, but Franklinville's Samantha Kopp has some unfinished business. She'd like to deliver the school's first sectional title since 1987. Kopp has 2,328 points going into the postseason. "She realizes she needs to score a good amount of points for us to win, but if she had 10 points and we won, she would be thrilled," said coach Nate Cornell.
Sleepers: Salamanca beat Frewsburg by only three points and Westfield hung with the Warriors for three quarters. "Frewsburg has six or seven kids who hustle all over the floor," said Salamanca coach Colleen Weidman. "Westfield has two big girls inside, and they've been in every game. But that's the fun of it. You have to earn it."
Best matchup before Jamestown: Franklinville's first game could be against Randolph. The Cardinals split with Franklinville this season. Kopp had a career-high 52 points in the loss. "It [will be] a tough opener. We're going to be challenged right from the start," said Cornell.
Favorite: No. 1 Clymer (20-0) is the only undefeated team in the entire tournament (75 teams). Senior Tara Bailey has talent and basketball savvy, making her a tough matchup. The senior guard has recently signed with Daemen College. Clymer, despite being good every year, hasn't won a sectional title since 1978.
Challengers: Sherman's only league losses were to Clymer. It hopes to meet the Pirates again. The Wildcats' go-to players are seniors Bethany Gribble and Rachel Ottaway.
Sleeper: Can No. 3 Pine Valley ever be counted out of a sectional tournament? The Lady Panthers play a good half-court defense and have a long tradition of winning. They were the runaway champs of CCAA III East. . . . No. 4 Ripley went from reaching the state final four last year to having six players on this year's roster. They finished one game with three players. Junior PG Kailyn Bentley leads the team in scoring, steals and assists. . . . Keep an eye on Maple Grove. It came within five points of beating Clymer earlier this season.
Best matchup before Jamestown: The semifinals would be interesting if Clymer meets Ripley and Sherman plays Pine Valley.