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Taplin’s free throws settle the issue

HENRIETTA – The streak is dead.

Not Williamsville North’s streak. The Spartans’ undefeated season continued Saturday afternoon with a positively thrilling 59-56 win over Penfield in the Class AA division of the girls basketball Far West Regionals.

The streak in question is Section V’s run of wins over Section VI at this stage of the postseason. A Section VI team never had advanced past this level in Class AA.

“Class AA may have had a jinx but I’ve won here,” said Williamsville North coach Bill Shaw, who formerly coached at Lockport. “It feels so good. I couldn’t feel more proud of the team. They worked so hard.”

The Spartans (25-0) trailed until Ericka Taplin made four free throws in the final 20 seconds.

The score was tied, 53-53, until Ally Delano made a layup to give the Spartans their first lead with 44 seconds left.

Penfield responded. Makaila Wilson, who had 26 points in a superb performance, made a lay-up and was fouled. Her made free throw put the Monarchs ahead by one with 20 seconds to go.

Williamsville North was getting ready to inbound the ball when Taplin cut out from under the basket to receive the pass. Before the ball was inbounded, though, a foul was called on Penfield.

“I was surprised, even though it was the right call,” Shaw said. “On the streets, that might have been a felony. But their coach did the right thing by trying to stop Ericka from getting the ball.”

Taplin had two shots, with her team down one, with a trip to the state championships on the line.

“Me and my dad practice that at home all the time – 20 seconds to go, game on the line,” Taplin said. “I thought, ‘I got to make them.’ ”

Good and good. Williamsville North had the lead for keeps.

Wilson missed a shot with nine seconds to go, and Taplin made two more free throws to wrap up the scoring. She had 10 points and was 8 for 8 from the line in the final four minutes.

“Yeah, that’s a pretty good quarter,” Shaw said with a chuckle. “She was phenomenal, and even that’s not a good enough word. She just works so hard, and the other kids just feed off that.”

Taplin led all scorers with 30 points. Ally Delano had 13 points, and Clare Ahern added 8. Emma Guy had 12 points for Penfield (22-2).

Now it’s on to the state championships. Williamsville North is off to Hudson Valley Community College for its next game on Friday night.

“Never in my whole life did I think we’d make the states,” Taplin said. “But we never gave up, and we can’t give up now.”

The Monarchs had the better of the play in the first half, and then turned it up at the start of the third quarter. They scored the first four points of the second half to take a 34-22 lead, a situation that had danger written all over it for the Section VI visitors.

“We were doing some stuff that didn’t work,” Shaw said. “We changed a few things, including a couple that we hadn’t really practiced, and that helped us out.”

The Spartans scored eight straight points, six of them by Taplin, to get back to within four points. Still Penfield bounced back to maintain a lead that was in the mid-to-high single digits. The Monarchs led by seven, 51-44, with 5:18 left, when Williamsville North put on a 9-2 burst to tie the score with 1:05 to go.