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South takes Class A title

For eight minutes, Williamsville South’s boys basketball team could not do anything right in Tuesday night’s Section VI Class A overall final/state qualifier at Buffalo State Sports Arena.

The Billies turned the ball over. They settled for poor shots. They failed to stop Olean from scoring the basketball.

But instead of playing catch-up for the remaining 24 minutes, Williamsville South needed only 7 minutes and change to flip the script on the Huskies, who are used to advancing to the state playoffs.

Sam Castronova scored 16 of his game-high 18 points during the middle quarters. He and the rest of the Billies also got downright defensive after a terrible first quarter to earn a 46-38 triumph over the three-time defending Class A champions.

Castronova’s three-pointer tied the game at 17 with 1:20 left in the first half after South had fallen behind by as much as 12-3. He then capped the Billies’ 19-point third quarter with a fade-away three that simply could be described as Jordanesque.

With the win, Williamsville South (22-1) advanced to the Far West Regionals for just the second time and plays the Section V Class A champion at 7:15 p.m. at Gates-Chili. The Rochester-area state qualifier between Greece Athena (21-0) and School of The Arts (20-2) is Wednesday night at Edison Tech.

“Senior year, I couldn’t ask for any better situation,” said Castronova, who shot 4 for 8 from beyond the arc. “I was afraid it wasn’t going to happen tonight, but we pulled it out, made our free throws at the end. It’s just a great feeling.”

“I knew our guys would step up at some point,” third-year Billies coach Gabe Michael said. “We just had to get the ball rolling.”

South didn’t get it rolling until the second quarter. That’s when it ratcheted up the intensity on its man-to-man defense, did a better job dealing with Olean’s screens and simply made it tougher for the Huskies to score in the paint. The Billies trailed 13-6 after one quarter but limited Olean to just 11 points over the next two quarters, surging ahead 37-24.

Kam Varner canned a three with 5:18 left in the first half to spark a 12-2 closing run that enabled the Billies to go into halftime ahead 18-17.

“I thought we played good defense, but we just couldn’t get shots to go down,” Olean senior Chucky Martin said. “I’m proud of all of my teammates. We had a good year. We proved a lot of guys wrong.”

Martin finished with 10 points, while junior Elijah Ramadhan had 13 to lead the Huskies (18-5).

South compounded the Huskies’ woes when freshman point guard Greg Dolan overcame his first-half struggles by attacking the basket more in the third quarter and opening things up for his teammates. Dolan had six of his nine points in the third, while Varner (nine points) drained a three with 3:23 left in the quarter to give South a seven-point lead.

Olean, which won its fourth straight Section VI title under veteran coach Jeff Anastasia even though it graduated most of the cast that reached two state Final Fours, pulled within 41-35 with 1:28 left after four straight points by Martin. But South beat the Huskies’ press with Varner passing to an open Matt Foster for the two-handed jam – giving the South faithful a chance to sit back and enjoy the rest of this victory.

“They were very disciplined,” Dolan said of Olean. “In the first quarter we struggled with their defense packing it in on us. They were making us shoot outside jump shots which just wasn’t what we were expecting at first, but we got into the game, got some rhythm, started running in transition and that’s our team. That’s what defines us and the defense just came with that.”

Along with a berth into regionals.