Most coaches want their team to strive for a balanced offense.
But as Williamsville East head coach Chris Durr admits, you can’t tell a player like Erica Martinsen to shoot less – as was the case Wednesday night in the Class A-1 semifinals.
The Flames’ sophomore guard dropped a school-record 50 points – and her team needed every single one, as it defeated a resilient Hamburg squad, 63-54, to advance to the Class A-1 final at Buffalo State College on Sunday.
It was a performance that left little doubt who the best player in Western New York is, according to Durr.
“If that isn’t a player of the year performance in a big game, then I don’t know what it is,” he said. “That’s a performance of the ages.”
No. 2 Will East will play No. 1 Williamsville South, which defeated Grand Island, 63-40, in the second semifinal game.
For the vast majority of Wednesday, the Flames’ offense was solely getting the ball to Martinsen, who either jacked up a three or sliced through Hamburg’s double teams for a layup.
“Obviously we needed those points,” Martinsen said. “The first thing in my mind was like, ‘We got to get to Buff State, we got to get through this game.’”
Martinsen added nine rebounds and went 8 of 13 from beyond the arc, and was particularly dominant at the start of both halves. She scored 17 of her team’s 19 first-quarter points and scored nine straight points for the Flames to start the third quarter.
That Will South run would make it a 41-25 game, but that’s when Hamburg would begin its own comeback. Hamburg used three-point shooting to go on a 19-4 run that made it a 45-44 game with about seven minutes left.
But the Flames would never lose their lead and eventually pulled away with some key defensive stops in the final minutes. Durr and Martinsen attributed the stops to switching from a man-to-man to a 1-2-2 zone defense.
But the story was Martinsen. Williamsville East captain and senior Carly Shifflet said her teammate’s performance motivated the rest of the team, which she said is focused on getting the Section VI title.
The Flames will face Williamsville South (15-3), which had an easier time with No. 4 Grand Island (13-6) and led by as many as 30 in the second half.
“We knew we had to work together well and we did,” said Billies senior and captain Brianna Neeley.
Will South had a more balanced offense than Will East, with its three captains leading the way. Neeley and Zaria McCullough scored 17 and 12 points, respectively, and Kelsey Stasiak added eight points and eight boards.
“We feel we have a number of players that can contribute,” said Billies coach Kristen Dolan.
Dolan said her team knows they have a tough opponent in Williamsville East and will focus on cleaning up their lingering mistakes from Wednesday’s win.
When asked what the team’s No. 1 focus will be in preparing for Martinsen and the Flames, who Williamsville South split the regular season series with, Neeley said, “Defense. Always defense. Doesn’t matter who we’re playing.”