It’s not easy to beat a team three times in a single season. Cheektowaga figured out a way to do it to Amherst last year, and now the Tigers have returned the favor to the Warriors.
Top-seeded Amherst held on for a thrilling 54-53 win over No. 4 Cheektowaga in the boys basketball Section VI Class A-2 semifinals on Thursday night.
“After losing to them three times last year, it was great to beat them again here,” said Amherst’s Dorian Billups, one of the game’s final heroes. “It’s great for coaches, great for the seniors.”
Waiting in Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. final in the same location will be Olean. The No. 3 Huskies knocked off second-seeded Starpoint, 62-51, in the other semifinal.
While both games were close and competitive, the Amherst-Cheektowaga matchup came up with the better finish. The game’s outcome was in doubt until the final moments.
The Tigers had the edge for most of the contest, but the Warriors remained within striking distance throughout. Dominick Welch, who scored Cheektowaga’s last nine points and had 26 for the night, hit a free throw with 52 seconds left to give his team a 53-52 lead.
Then Terrell Brown took the ball into his hands and attacked the Cheektowaga defense.
“The team needed me to step up there,” said Brown, who had 17 points.
His driving basket put Amherst up one with 34 seconds left. Still, the Warriors had plenty of time to win.
They still had the ball with nine seconds left, when Billups stepped up.
“In the huddle, coach said we needed to play nine seconds of good defense,” he said. “I was in the right place at the right time.”
Billups made the steal, dribbled the ball a few times, and threw it to the other end of the court as the final seconds elapsed.
“It was an exciting game,” said an out-of-breath Amherst coach Chris Kensy. “Both of us have a lot of respect for each other. This was a great atmosphere and an exciting game.”
Meanwhile, Olean had its hands full with a good Starpoint team, but still found a way to reach the Sectional final. So what else is new?
The Huskies, who have won three straight Sectionals, turned it on in the fourth quarter for the victory.
Olean lost five senior starters from last season, so it was tough to know if the team would be up to the task of going this far in 2015. Even coach Jeff Anastasia wasn’t sure how far this team could go.
“We talked about that as coaches,” he said. “We’re only returning two players from last year who played, and they averaged 2.8 points and 2.6 points per game. They were here, but didn’t play much.
“Tradition is important, and maybe that helped us, but you still have to step out and do it.”
Olean was led by sophomore Ben Eckstrom, who had 17 points – all of them in the second half. Anastasia didn’t mind the blanking in the first half since it was followed by a superb performance in the final 16 minutes.
“I’ll definitely take that,” he said. “He might have had the jitters in this first game at this stage. When things go bad, you have to know you are a shooter and that the shots are going to fall eventually. Ben kept his head up and came through.”
Chucky Martin added 16 points for Olean. Christian Modine led all scorers with 27 points for Starpoint.
The teams took turns at making runs at each other for much of the evening. Olean started a bit slowly, but eventually worked its way back into the contest. The game was tied at 43-43 with 4:52 left. This was up for grabs, and the Huskies took it.
They ran off a 10-1 spurt to go up, 53-44, with less than two minutes to go. From there it was just a matter of making some free throws to wrap the game up, and Olean did that.
“We made good decisions, and we continued to make stops,” Anastasia said. “After we got up nine, we made sure to slow things down.”