Williamsville South and Lake Shore have a couple of things in common.
Both like to fly below the radar and not really do anything to provoke an opponent prior to a contest. There’s just no need for providing extra motivation.
That strategy is fine but it becomes flawed once success becomes so great that there’s no hiding from the spotlight. And there is no way for either the Billies or the Eagles to shy away from the limelight since both have earned the right to be called champions.
The Section VI Class A state qualifier at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Buffalo State will be a clash between ECIC Division II girls basketball rivals after both won classification championships Sunday.
Williamsville South (21-1) used a gargantuan second half to pull away from a pesky Hamburg (15-7) crew as the Billies secured their second straight Class A-1 championship with a 61-37 triumph. Williamsville South made some tweaks to its defense and that paid dividends as it outscored the Bulldogs, 35-15, during the final 16 minutes, beating them for the third time this season.
“I’m just proud of the girls and how they kept battling,” South coach Kristen Dolan said. “We knew we had to stay focused and be in the moment.”
Lake Shore (14-7), meanwhile, fell behind, 5-0, before seizing control in a major way during a 54-37 throttling of Cheektowaga. Senior Melanie Linsmair finished with 18 points, seven rebounds, four assists and four steals as the Eagles won their first Section VI title since 1998.
“It’s just so exciting,” Linsmair said. “It’s such a nice feeling to finally win. We’ve waited for this moment forever.”
An estimated 1,000 attended the two Class A title games at Buffalo State Sports Arena.
Williamsville South has been here before, although the Billies were just happy to be part of such a successful weekend of basketball for their school. The boys won the Class A-1 title on the same court Saturday night against North Tonawanda, 63-41 – a victory in which coach Dolan’s sons, Greg and Graham, played key roles.
They were among the many supporters on hand for the girls Sunday, along with University at Buffalo starting quarterback and South alumnus Joe Licata, whose little sister Grace is a starting guard.
The Billies led, 26-22, at halftime as the Bulldogs found holes to complete long passes, leading to some easy layups during the first half. South tweaked its trapping and zone defenses in the second half to take away passing lanes and suffocate Hamburg’s upset hopes with a 16-4 third quarter.
Grace Licata, who averages in double figures, only had six points Sunday but scored four during the decisive quarter. She opened it with a layup and added another after making a steal to build the Billies’ lead to 34-24 with 5:02 left. Brianna Neeley had six of her game-high 15 points during the third-quarter blitz, while Erin Egan had four.
On a day when Licata and Emily Smith, another double-figure scorer, struggled to get their points, Egan and others helped make up for that.
Egan finished with 14 points, 12 rebounds (nine offensive), five blocks and two steals. Lauren Lassiter came off the bench and drained two huge three-pointers during South’s 15-9 first quarter. Reserve Nina Ragland had a key basket during the third-quarter run.
“We’re just really proud being a part of all this,” Egan said. “We’ve been working for it all year. We knew we hadn’t played our best” during the first half. “We just came out motivated to take the game over.”
Lake Shore, which lost both regular-season meetings to South, started slowly but put the clamps on Cheektowaga’s offense – jump-starting its own offense and opening the door for a blowout. The Eagles led, 10-5, after one and then exploited a post mismatch with Linsmair scoring six points in the second quarter and Darian Evans adding five of her 12 during the period.
Another key to Lake Shore’s win is that its seventh-grade point guard, Jaydn Jones, slowed down eighth-grader Angel Parker as the Eagles continued to build their lead. Lake Shore led by 28-14 at halftime and 46-23 after three quarters. Parker had 11 of her 17 points during the second half.
The Eagles played so well there was no hiding coach Andrea Conrad’s excitement midway through the third quarter. She unleashed a fist pump befitting a champion. A short time later, Lake Shore earned the right to be called just that.
“If I’m not intense we’re not intense; I have to play that game with them,” Conrad said. “We’ve been flying under the radar all year. It’s right where we like to be. … This validates it for us and maybe everyone will start to notice us now.”
They already have.