By Melissa Brawdy
Special to the News
Claire Wanzer is going to the Class A-2 finals, and she’s bringing her Amherst teammates with her.
The senior has been one of the top scorers in Western New York for a few years, and she, along with her team, felt that this was their year. Only Lake Shore stood in the way of the Tigers’ road to Buffalo State, the same team that handed Amherst a loss in the first game of the season.
But a come-from-behind 56-53 win over the Eagles on Tuesday night at Sweet Home High School gave Amherst the redemption it needed, along with a ticket to the finals.
"I’m so happy," Wanzer said. "It just was a lot of preparation because from the beginning of this season, since that was our first game, we kind of were hoping to have a second chance, and it just feels really good to get to go, especially with this group of girls. I really like them."
Sara Pfeiffer led Olean to a dominant 53-37 win over Kenmore East on Tuesday night at Sweet Home. Her 28 points included one three and a behind-the-back shot as the Huskies punched their ticket to the A-2 final against Amherst at Buffalo State on Sunday.
Amherst trailed for much of the game and didn’t take the lead for good until late in the fourth quarter. But as Wanzer said, it was their time.
"For the last few weeks, I’ve felt like it was kind of our time," Wanzer said. "And even though we were down early in the game, at halftime everyone was like, ‘We can still do it. We can still do it.’ We knew that it’s a 32-minute game, so we still had time, and then even the third quarter we were still behind, but toward the end when we started getting momentum, everyone was like, ‘Yeah, this is our time to finish it off.’ "
Wanzer scored nine of her 11 points in the fourth quarter, including five free throws, as the Tigers gained momentum and finished off the game. They never strayed from their system and kept the confidence that Wanzer spoke of, and she and others stepped up when needed.
"We stay in our system, and it was important to stay in our defensive system," coach Mike Chatelle said. "We’ve also preached since the beginning of the year that there’s gonna be times when you need to be a basketball player. Things that we draw up aren’t always gonna work. They look great on the board, they look great when you walk through it, but they’re not always gonna work. And at that point, you need to be a basketball player."
"It was definitely our defense, sticking with our defense our coach had told us to play and just being aggressive," Wanzer said. "I know Leah [Shutts] got a few really good steals, and then getting shots and kind of getting to the free throw line too and getting shots really helped and went in our favor."
Camryn Sullivan had 10 rebounds, Emma Klein had four steals, and Shutts had five assists. Wanzer herself finished with 20 points, nine rebounds, and three steals.
"She was on the floor late in the game a few times," Chatelle said of Wanzer. "I don’t think she came off the floor, so that in itself should tell you what kind of player she is. That was our message as we left the locker room. No matter what happens, just make sure you come out and be proud of your effort. And that’s gonna continue, no matter who you play in the next round. She came up with some big rebounds, she didn’t leave the floor."
Wanzer’s goal Tuesday night was to play a game she could be proud of, and it started with a pregame speech from her mom.
"My mom said, ‘You don’t want to have any regrets. This is a big game and you could think about it the rest of your life and you don’t want to gave any regrets from this game,’ " Wanzer said. "So it was definitely a big thing for me to go out and just not regret anything, whether it was a win or a loss, but of course I wanted to win the game."
And in a season in which Wanzer broke the Amherst basketball record for all-time points for both boys and girls – she’s currently at 1,661 – she’s accomplished another goal as well as Amherst looks ahead to the finals nd her coach couldn’t be happier for the selfless leader as his team looks ahead to to its first trip to the finals since 2010.
"You set goals as a team, but she needed to get there," Chatelle said. "She deserved to get there, and even when we talked about breaking the record, it wasn’t something that consumed her to the point where it hurt the rest of the team. It was within the framework of our team. So she is going, yes, but we’re all going with her."
Olean’s Pfeiffer is just a sophomore, and her motivation is her senior teammates.
"I do it for the seniors," she said. "I need them as much as they need me, but they know I’m gonna step up at the right time, and that’s what I did for them. And it’s just a great feeling to be able to say, yeah, I did this for the seniors to keep our season alive."
The Huskies kept their confidence, even when their lead was cut to two points at halftime and finished off the Bulldogs for a trip to the finals.
"I’m just happy," coach Randy Samuelson said. "The kids have a chance to go to Buffalo State and play in the finals."