The future was on display when Amari DeBerry of Williamsville South and Emma Klein of Amherst were on the Buffalo State Sports Arena court on Sunday afternoon. The present looked pretty good too.
Both of the eighth-graders were standouts in leading their teams to Section VI girls basketball championships. DeBerry was a decisive force for the Billies as they defeated Hamburg, 58-50, in the Class A-1 title game. Klein had a big game as the Tigers downed Olean, 70-50, in the A-2 title game.
"She's the best-kept secret in Western New York," Williamsville South coach Kristen Dolan said about DeBerry. "Other people outside the area have now heard of her. She's so young, so talented. Now it's just a matter of keeping her in the game. ... Amari is huge in so many ways. She helps out the press, breaks down defenses."
The 6-foot-4 DeBerry scored 21 points on offense, and was a frequent intimidating presence on defense with rebounding and shot-blocking.
"We wanted to stay positive and play our game," she said. "Zaria" McCullough "is a senior, and we wanted to get her a championship."
Grace Stahl added 12 points for the Billies.
Williamsville South scored the game's first two baskets, and never trailed the rest of the way. But that's not to say the Bulldogs were an easy opponent to finish off. The Billies would pull away a little during portions of the game, and the Bulldogs would crawl back. It was only a four-point game with a minute to go, but South closed it out from there.
Katie Villarini had 18 points, and Maggie Vesneske added 17 for Hamburg
"Hamburg is a talented team, and Villarini and Vesneske certainly have our respect," Dolan said. "Before the game, we told them to try to stay in the moment. We have a bunch of little things to do - box out, pass the ball, take care of the basketball."
Williamsville South also has had to make a major adjustment in the postseason, as starter Hannah Dolan suffered a leg injury earlier in the sectional playoffs.
"She's got eight days in a cast, and hopefully she will get it off and then we'll see," Kristen Dolan said. "The girls have been rallying around her."
In the second game of the day, Amherst jumped out to a 20-5 lead by the early part of the second quarter. Olean got as close as five points in the third quarter, but the Tigers couldn't be stopped from there.
"We wanted to get off to a quick start," Amherst coach Mike Chatelle said. "They missed a couple of shots, but overall we worked really hard on defense for the last couple of days."
The Tigers figured that Olean guard Sara Pfeiffer was going to get some points, and she did. Pfeiffer finished with 34 points, but no one else on the Huskies had more than five points.
"Sara is incredible," said Amherst guard Claire Wanzer, who had 18 points. "The whole team talked about how they lived and died by the three-point shot. Even when we were up by 10, we knew they still had a chance. But we did a good job of controlling the game."
Wanzer certainly lived up to her reputation as one of the area's best players, but Klein's offense was more than a nice bonus. The 23 points were a career high.
"People are starting to find out how good she is," Chatelle said. "She's a real sparkplug for us. Claire is our leader, but Emma does a lot of things well."
It was a disappointing ending to the season for Olean, which moved from Class B to Class A in the offseason. That's a big jump, and coach Randy Samuelson said he would have taken a trip to the sectional final back in November. But, that didn't make the loss Sunday any easier to take.
"We dug ourselves in, uncharacteristically," he said. "We didn't have enough gas from there. We were kind of slow and iffy. It was the worst basketball game we played all year. ... At this level, the teams are all really good. You can't make those mistakes against a good team."
Now the two winners move on to a Wednesday night game at 6 to determine the overall champion in Class A. Williamsville South won two games over Amherst earlier in the season.
"We only lost to them by a little, and we've grown since then," Klein said.
"Whoever gets to this point is super-good," Dolan said right after her fourth straight A-1 title. "Now we'll see what happens in the next round."