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Brinker powers East Aurora to sectional title

East Aurora’s third quarter was a clinic, and the performance by their freshman center wasn’t too far off, either.

Six-foot freshman Emma Brinker had 29 points, 16 rebounds and seven blocks as the Blue Devils rode a 23-7 third quarter to a 64-46 victory over Cleveland Hill in the Section VI overall Class B championship game Wednesday night.

A Buffalo State Sports Arena crowd of about 600 watched East Aurora turn a four-point lead at halftime to a 20-point rout after three quarters. While Brinker defended the basket, the Blue Devils clogged driving lanes and turned over the Golden Eagles, leading to transition baskets – including 13 points by their precocious center.

“That was about the best we played all year, in all aspects: Taking care of the boards, running our offense, how we defended,” said East Aurora coach Gary Schutrum. “It was a special quarter.”

And Brinker is a special player. She was an omnipresent obstacle in the lane on defense, and on the other end she smoothly knocked down a handful of jumpers from the foul line. She also found superb spots for her teammates to find her – and after her big evening, she handed out a few assists as well.

“My teammates were getting me the best passes,” Brinker said. “They always find me, and today especially they were giving me really nice passes.”

But then ask one of those teammates, and it’s a chicken-or-the-egg scenario of unselfish basketball.

“She’s just so good,” said East Aurora senior captain Erin Nason, who had 14 points. “She shows both of her numbers to us every single time she posts up. She makes it almost impossible not to be able to get it into her. It’s so easy to get it into her, it makes it very nice.”

Said coach Schutrum of Brinker: “It was as heck of a performance by her, she just played great. I think she’s pretty special. I think she gets it. I think that’s what makes her such a good player for us. I can’t say enough about the work she does.

“Sometimes it’s a little tough on her, because there are a lot of expectations – she’s only 15 years old,” the coach said. “But we have a really good support team around her. And they do a really good job, and I think that’s really what makes it work. I think that takes some pressure off her, when she knows she has teammates that can play. I have to give credit to Erin, and Sam Youngman, and Julianna Meisenheimer and Maddy Kelchin so much credit for making that freshman what she is. Emma couldn’t do it by herself.”

East Aurora (21-2) will return to Buffalo State on Saturday for the Far West Regionals, where at 11 a.m. it will face Section V (Rochester area) champion Livonia for the right to advance to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association final four in Troy.

Wednesday’s overall Section VI title, just the second in program history, came one year after East Aurora lost the Section VI overall Class A final in overtime to Williamsville South.

“Last year we were underdogs, and we were supposed to lose a lot and we played the underdog card to push us harder,” said Brinker, whose team moved down to Class B this season due to a change in enrollment guidelines. “This year we were on top, and we were supposed to do well, so it was different. But so far it has worked out.”

Cleveland Hill (20-3), playing in its first overall final after winning the program’s first sectional title in Class B-2 on Sunday, appeared to be overmatched early against the size of EA (down 18-13 after one and eight in the second). However, behind sophomore Sydney Turley (15 points), sophomore Aviance Clark (nine) and sophomore Jayla James (six), the Golden Eagles made a spirited late push to come within 27-23 at the half.

Then came the third quarter.

“We just we just tried to pack the house so they couldn’t drive, and we tried to steal as much as possible and put them under pressure,” said Nason, who added four points in the quarter, as did Meisenheimer, as EA went up, 50-30. Cleve Hill got the lead down to 11, but a three-point play by Brinker pushed the lead to 55-41 with less than four minutes to play.

This will be EA’s second trip to regionals – its first came on its way to the 2011 NYSPHSAA Class B championship. Livonia (21-1) won the Section V title last Saturday with a 37-35 victory over Wellsville.

“We have a tough challenge in Livonia,” said Schutrum. “We’ve seen them a couple of times, and they have some real good tools. Hopefully it’ll be a helluva basketball game.”