While Jamestown won the ECIC I Division championship and captured the top seed for the Section VI Class AA boys basketball tournament, the Red Raiders’ main objective throughout the season was making sure they were well-prepared to play their best during championship week.
They more than passed the eye test Tuesday night at the Buffalo State Sports Arena, and their reward is a chance to do something no Jamestown team has done since the late 1940s.
The Red Raiders scored the first 12 points of the game during an 18-5 opening quarter in beating Lancaster, 71-35, before an estimated 1,000. Senior Stephen Carlson scored seven of his 10 points during the opening eight minutes and Zacc Kinsey led the Red Raiders with 16 points.
Each Jamestown starter finished in double figures, with senior returning All-Western New York first teamer Zack Panebianco scoring nine of his 12 points during the first half. He also finished with 10 assists facilitating the offense. James Rojas had five of his 10 points during the first quarter and Ben Larson added 10.
“We executed very well tonight,” Red Raiders coach Ben Drake said. “We did a good job executing our defensive game plan and we made open shots. If you do those two things you have a real good chance at being successful.”
Jamestown has won four Section VI championships over the last five seasons but hasn’t won three straight since 1947-49.
The Red Raiders will try to do just that at 8:15 p.m. Saturday when they face either No. 2 seed Williamsville North or third-seeded Niagara Falls for the championship at the Sports Arena.
The second Class AA semifinal will be played at 8:15 p.m. Wednesday to cap a tripleheader at the Sports Arena that will begin at 5:15 p.m. with the Class B-1 semifinal between Burgard and Albion. That game will be followed by No. 10 Maryvale looking for its third straight tournament upset against No. 3 Medina.
Tuesday was the third time Jamestown and Lancaster had met during the season. Contrary to popular belief, the Red Raiders had no problem beating the same team three times in the same season. They beat the No. 4 seed by 15 and 22 points, respectively, during the regular season.
Jamestown wasted little time pounding it inside as Carlson scored twice. While the Red Raiders had success hitting their shots, Lancaster struggled as even a couple shots that seemed good upon release refused to fall through the hoop.
While Lancaster had to fight for each of its points, even the circus shots fell for Jamestown as Panebianco put it on the floor, lost his footing on a drive yet threw the ball up and in for a basket that had some fans saying “no way.”
“Nothing he does surprises me,” Drake said of Panebianco.
Jamestown (19-3) led, 34-13 at halftime and 55-21 after three quarters. Alex Damiani had seven points to lead Lancaster (12-9).
Now the Red Raiders wait to return to the court they call their second home. Jamestown, ranked second in the News’ Large School poll, knows what’s at stake. The Red Raiders are determined to return to the state tournament but in order to do that they must win Saturday’s contest.
“The guys are aware of our postseason success,” Drake said. “We’re just trying to take it one game at a time and get one more on Saturday.”
“We feel this one is within reach,” said Carlson, who added six rebounds. “We won’t be satisfied until we win the sectional championship.”