Just when Amherst looked to be in control of Wednesday’s Class A-2 semifinal showdown between defending sectional champions at Buffalo State College, Olean exhibited its offensive prowess and started raining down three-pointers.
The Huskies’ quick strike offense knocked down five three-pointers in the final two minutes, but Amherst, which led comfortably for most of the game, was able to hold on. The top-seeded Tigers took down the defending Class B state champions, 57-53, to return to the Class A-2 final on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. They’ll meet No. 3 South Park.
In the first game of the night’s tripleheader, Lancaster advanced to the program’s first sectional title game since 1995, running away with a 71-48 victory over Kenmore West. That was followed by Niagara Falls’ 58-50 win over Jamestown in the other Class AA semifinal.
“We knew they weren’t going to give up – that team never quits – and we just had to weather the storm at the end,” Amherst coach Chris Kensy said. ‘That was the best defense we played for three-and-a-half quarters all year and I’m glad it was on the big stage.”
Amherst was led by senior Marcellus Cooper’s 18 points and 10 rebounds. Senior Da’Shawn Hines added 13 points in the win.
With Amherst leading, 45-34, late in the game, Olean senior Monty Shoemaker knocked down three of his six three-pointers. He finished with a game-high 19 points. Teammates Luke Rogers and Mike Schmidt (11 points) also nailed threes in the final 35 seconds, as the team finished 11 for 35 on threes. The Huskies got to within 56-53 but Richard Kay sealed the win for Amherst, hitting a free throw with three seconds to play.
“A few years ago we had lost to them while I was at a different school, but I came back and I knew I could help this team out,” said Cooper, who transferred back from Nichols. “They took me in like a brother again, so I said that I have your back. When we found we were playing Olean we were very excited. We didn’t want any other team.”
Lancaster (14-7) received huge games from guards Vito Fulciniti, a senior who scored a game-high 25 points, and Alec Tamburri (junior), who finished with 21 points. Senior LG Castillo added 11 points.
The Legends put together the building blocks for the program’s success the first few years of coach John Otto’s six-year tenure and now, the team has taken off with three straight appearances at Buffalo State.
Ironically, Lancaster will be meeting one of the teams Otto aspires for his program to resemble. Niagara Falls used an 11-0 run to start the fourth quarter to defeat Jamestown, 58-50, in a rematch of last year’s final and a battle of two of Western New York’s most storied boys basketball programs. Lancaster will meet Niagara Falls on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. in the Class AA title game.
“It’s a true program now,” said Otto, who played basketball for Lancaster in the 1980s. “Jamestown and Niagara Falls have had it for years, and now we’re trying to build our own out here in Lancaster.”
In the other AA semifinal, trailing by 30-24, Jamestown came out of the half on a 7-0 run and led by 44-39 after the third. Niagara Falls coach Sal Canstantino said if this was earlier in the season his team would have probably wilted at that point. The Wolverines did not, scoring the next 19 of 25 points to end the game.
“It shows the growth of the team,” he said. “There was no finger pointing. We came back and really stuck together.”
While senior James Rojas nearly willed top-seeded Jamestown (13-7) to the final, scoring a game-high 22 points, No. 5 Niagara Falls (13-8) used a balanced attack which featured 10 different scorers.
Junior guard Tazaun Rose, who along with Syquan Ralands sat in the first quarter for missing a practice, led Niagara Falls with 15 points, including three three-pointers. Rose also nailed six free throws down the stretch. Senior Devin Sanders added seven points in the win.
Constantino credited senior Cortese Myles for his defense on Rojas in the second half.