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East Aurora girls reach the end of their ride

TROY – All one had to do was look at the faces of East Aurora’s players at the end of Friday morning’s New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class B girls basketball semifinal and it was pretty easy to figure out the Blue Devils’ postseason ride was over.

If the sad faces didn’t give it away, the tears did.

East Aurora’s second trip to the final four didn’t go as well as its first, eight years ago. On Friday the Blue Devils’ season came to an end at the hands of Section IV champion Susquehanna Valley, 53-46, at Hudson Valley Community College.

An estimated 500 watched as the Sabers made the Blue Devils uncomfortable by speeding up the game, forcing East Aurora to play at a pace it wasn’t accustomed to this season.

The Blue Devils committed 25 turnovers, struggled to hit the three and even when they had time on their side still made too many errors to take down a team playing wiser than its years. The Sabers start a freshman, three sophomores and a junior.

“They made us play faster than we’re used to, which made us play a little nervous,” said senior captain Erin Nason, who finished with 11 points, seven rebounds and four steals.

“We didn’t play very well,” EA freshman center Emma Brinker said. “They were quick and everything.”

SV (18-5) will play Section II champion Hoosick Falls at 4 p.m. Saturday at Hudson Valley CC for the state Class B championship. Hoosick routed Section I Irvington, 55-36.

Brinker made half of East Aurora’s 20 field goals for the game. Brinker, who missed just five shots, finished with a game-high 20 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. The loss snapped East Aurora’s five-game winning streak as it capped the season winning 11 of its final 13 games.

EA (22-3) trailed by as much as 10 on a couple of occasions in the first half but pulled within 25-22 by halftime as Nason had five points during the Blue Devils’ closing 7-0 run over the final 2 minutes, 50 seconds.

East Aurora carried that momentum into the third quarter and took a 26-25 lead on baskets by Sam Youngman and Brinker during the opening 1:25. Courtney Knapp’s trey with 5:12 left in the quarter gave SV the lead for good.

A pair of Brinker baskets early in the fourth quarter pulled the Blue Devils within three each time, but that’s as close as they got as Erin Nolan scored back-to-back baskets to key a run that enabled the Sabers to push the lead back to nine.

“I think we learned some valuable lessons today against a very good team,” East Aurora coach Gary Schutrum said. “I think we maybe have to play against that type of competition a little bit more during the regular season so we get used to that speed and athleticism.”

While they didn’t get to the final, the hope is that this is the start of a trend and not a one-time thing, especially with a roster filled with 10 potential returnees next year. EA’s graduation losses include Nason, who’s probably the Blue Devils’ best all-around threat and top defender. But Brinker is back and so is sophomore point guard Julianna Misenheimer, who had 20 points in the Far West Regional over Livonia last weekend.

“Every coach wants to get to the state championship,” Schutrum said. “We fell one game short this year, but I’m very proud of the girls and players that I have and the coaches that support us.”

“I’ll never forget the experience,” said Brinker. “It was really fun. … Everybody wants to come back next year.”