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Lancaster, Amherst, Hamburg crowned lacrosse champions

Lancaster and Hamburg earned returns to the playoff round that will make or break their girls lacrosse seasons, while Amherst took back what it lost a year ago Thursday at All High Stadium during the Section VI championships.

Lancaster won its 10th title in 11 years by beating Frontier, 12-8, in Class A. Senior Grace Gabriel recorded five goals, including two during the game-closing 3-1 run, which enabled Lancaster to beat the Falcons for the fourth year in a row in a sectional final.

“We knew that it was going to be a tough game,” said Gabriel of the third meeting of the season between the teams – all wins by Lancaster. “Everyone knew we had to be mentally tough and that’s what we did to win the game.”

In Class B, Hamburg won its fourth straight Section VI championship, beating Williamsville East, 14-9, as LeMoyne-bound Claire Herrmann and Carolyn Connors each scored five goals to fuel the offense.

“There’s no better feeling,” said Herrmann, whose “four-peat” scream started the postgame party after the presentation of the championship plaque. “Every year it keeps getting better and better.”

In Class C, Amherst gained a measure of revenge by beating defending champion Lake Shore, 13-10, for its 10th title in 11 years. McKenna Rushford had four goals and an assist to lead a Tigers’ crew which had its sights set on this game from the moment the Eagles ended Amherst’s nine-year championship reign last May.

“It feels amazing just to have the blue patch back,” said Rushford of earning the patch given to the sectional champion as opposed to the red patches given to the runner-up.

An estimated 1,500 fans watched as the three champions clinched spots in Saturday’s Far West Regional tripleheader at All High Stadium where they will face Section V’s champions.

Lancaster earned its place on the card by playing a possession game that negated the young Falcons’ speed. Frontier scored twice in a span of 44 seconds to take the early 2-1 first-half lead. Lancaster seized control after that, with a 4-0 run in just over 5 minutes, during which the Falcons spent way too much time on defense.

Natali Ninova started the blitz with the first of her three goals. Strikes by Gabriel, Hannah Nagowski and Ninova forced Frontier to take a timeout. Though Lancaster did not score directly after the stoppage, it did milk time off the clock. When Nagowski struck again, it made the score 6-2 with 5:10 left in the first half. Lancaster led, 6-4, at halftime.

“I think we were really tentative in the first half,” Frontier coach Tim Myslinski said. “I think when we settled down we started to play better.”

Julia Hackford, Riley Burke and Jacquelyn Dufresne (three goals, one assist) scored to pull Frontier within 9-7 with 11:16 left. That’s when Lancaster (17-1) said enough as Jenna Hagen scored and Gabriel followed with two more.

“These guys stepped up to the challenge and did a great job,” said Lancaster coach Julie Buccieri of her team’s finish.

Buccieri hopes her team rises to the challenge one more time. Lancaster is the only Section VI team to win a regional state tournament game, back in 2007. It has gone 2-1 against top Section V competition this season. Can Lancaster get back to the state final four?

“We’re as ready as we can be,” Buccieri said. “We just have to limit mistakes and take advantage of opportunities and do the best we can.”

Hamburg (15-4) is as ready as it’s going to be, too, after playing a mostly tough Class A schedule prior to the Class B postseason.

The Bulldogs pounced early against Williamsville East, bolting to an 8-4 lead with less than 3 minutes left in the opening half and leading by five at intermission. Beside Herrmann and Connors, twin sisters Amanda and Becca Izzo each had two goals and an assist for a Hamburg team that’s also eager to see if it can survive the regional test. The Bulldogs face last year’s state runner-up Victor at 8 p.m. Saturday.

“It’s exciting because it’s never the same team,” Hamburg coach Katy Ryan said about extending the title streak. “It’s always a different team dynamic but it never gets old.”

Rushford played a big role in Amherst’s hot start, scoring twice to give the Tigers the early lead – including a highlight end-to-end rush after picking off a pass. She sparked a half-closing 3-0 run as her goal with 2:22 left broke a 5-5 tie, giving Amherst (17-1) the lead for good.

Jalyn Jimerson and Shayla Scanlan each scored three goals for Lake Shore (10-5), a younger team than the edition that won the title last year.

Angelina Simon (one assist) and Chloe Cottone each finished with three goals for the Tigers. Leanne Orlowski and Camryn Sullivan also scored for Amherst, whose speed and experience proved troublesome for the Eagles.

“I think the biggest thing this game was possessing the ball, and it was a team effort,” Amherst coach Andrew Karpinko said.