What’s more special, winning a Section VI girls basketball championship for the first time or pulling off a repeat?
That’s a tough call, as both are pretty sweet accomplishments. Cleveland Hill and East Aurora can attest to that as both celebrated quite merrily Sunday afternoon at the Buffalo State Sports Arena.
Give credit to Cleve Hill. The Golden Eagles held it together so well that they didn’t shed any tears of joy in public. Only smiles, hugs and laughter as Cleve Hill made history in winning its school’s first basketball playoff championship, beating Fredonia, 54-35, for the Section VI Class B-2 crown.
Eight different players scored for the Eagles, who limited the Hillbillies to 15 second-half points, including five in the third quarter, to pull away.
“It’s really great,” sophomore Sydney Turley said. “It was fantastic. We didn’t want to cry so quickly so we’re going to hide our feelings to later on.”
“This is extremely special,” winning coach Carrie Owens said. “We’re finally bringing back some recognition for Cleve Hill basketball.”
The Eagles (20-2) will play East Aurora (20-2) for the overall Class B title and berth into the state tournament at 5 p.m. Wednesday at the Sports Arena.
The Blue Devils won their second straight sectional championship, taking the B-1 title a year after winning in A-2 by dispatching defending champion Tonawanda, 58-31. Erin Nason’s 12 points led three EA players in double figures. Ten different players scored as the Blue Devils started fast to seize control.
“I think any time you repeat it’s pretty special,” EA coach Gary Schutrum said. “I think there’s extra work you have to do to make sure you don’t get complacent. You have to make sure you do all the work you need to do so it’s pretty satisfying.”
An estimated 600 attended the two Class B games.
Cleveland Hill fell behind, 5-0 and 8-3, before settling down. Back-to-back three-pointers from Aviance Clark and Jayla James pulled the Eagles into a 12-12 knot. They trailed, 13-12, after one quarter but surged ahead by making free throws.
Cleve Hill went 1 for 2 from the line on four different trips down the floor over the first five minutes of the second quarter to move ahead for good. Shadymone Newsome’s put-back made it 19-15 with 2:33 left in the second. Jala Gilliam’s three made it 23-17 and seconds later, a steal and layup by Clark made it an eight-point game.
Katie Price’s three to end the half pulled the Hillbillies (17-6) within 25-20, but the damage was done. Cleve Hill felt pretty good about itself, and firmly seized control with an 11-3 run to open the second half and march into history. Layups by Dakaylah Winfield and Turley and a trey by Gilliam highlighted the blitz.
Winning the title is “like a game-changer for Cleveland Hill,” said Turley, who finished with eight points and 12 rebounds. “We’re overwhelmed just because there’s a lot coming at us right now but we can’t give up.”
Gilliam finished with 13 points to lead Cleve Hill, while Clark had 11 and Winfield eight.
East Aurora’s height, quickness and ball movement were too much for Tonawanda (14-9), as the favored Blue Devils wore that cap well even though they’d prefer to be underdogs. They were underdogs when they won the A-2 title last season.
“We’re trying to just not think about being the No. 1 seed,” Nason said. “We try to lighten the mood so we don’t get nervous because we do have a young team.”
Young and talented, starting with freshman center Emma Brinker, who is a game changer even when the shots aren’t falling for her because she’s an effective passer and moves quite well for a 6-footer. She finished with 11 points, 15 rebounds (six offensive), three blocks, three assists and two steals.
“We’re just more experienced,” said Brinker, a member of last year’s title team. “It makes us more comfortable with each other passing the ball. We move the ball more, we can score more and play defense” better.
EA’s inside-outside ball movement was too much as Sam Youngman had six of her team’s points during a 15-7 first quarter. Brinker had four points in the period. The Blue Devils ended things in the second quarter, holding Tonawanda to just two points en route to a 30-9 halftime lead.
“It feels pretty great to finish my senior year winning the sectional title,” Nason said.