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Fast start can't save Clarence in AA matchup

For eight minutes, the Clarence girls basketball team was on top of the world.

The Red Devils came out fast in their Class AA Far West Regional game with Mercy, as they played an almost perfect first quarter. They had a 15-4 lead over the second-ranked team in the class in the state.

"We came to play," coach Erin Booker of Clarence said. "It's probably was one of our best quarters of the season. In fact, it was one of our best games of the season."

Then the alarm clock went off, and the Monarchs suddenly played to their abilities. It was never easy, but Mercy came away with a 47-40 win over the Red Devils on Saturday afternoon at the Buffalo State Sports Arena.

Clarence sometimes has trouble scoring, but the Red Devils averaged almost a basket a minute in the first quarter. Most of them came on shots around the basket, as Ella Rose Eckert had eight points in the quarter.

"It was almost as if in the locker room, Mercy thought they could come in here and roll us," Booker said. "I could see their coach was pretty mad. You shouldn't take anyone lightly at this point."

It took about four minutes for the 11-point lead to disappear. The Monarchs scored four lay-ups and hit a pair of three-pointers in that span, and they had a 18-17 lead after a 14-2 burst. The teams left the half with Mercy up by a point.

"We had that four-minute span where we just couldn't score," Booker said.

Clarence hung around for much of the third quarter, trailing by only a basket at 27-25 with 2:20 left. But Mercy scored the last five points of the period to go up seven. The lead got as high as 41-29 with 4:40 left.

Still, the Red Devils didn't go away. They scored the next seven points to close within five points. Still, everything would have to go right to complete a memorable comeback.

It didn't, as Mercy regained its composure. The Monarchs sank their last four free throws, and added a lay-up - one of eight they had in the half - to emerge as the winner.

Eckert finished with 12 points to lead Clarence, while Carly Reynolds added 10. For Mercy, only four players scored. Traiva Breedlove led with 17, while Emily McDonough and Katie Titus finished with 11 each.

"We packed it in and tried to keep the ball out of the hands of" Titus and 6-foot-3 center Ruth Koang, "and stop Breedlove's jumpers from the paint," Booker said.

Only a few teams don't lose their final game of the season, but Clarence had plenty of consolation over this loss. Section VI titles are rare in girls basketball, so it was a season to remember.

"This was a wonderful experience for my team," the coach concluded. "We've got four sophomores on the team, and four juniors coming back. I'm so proud of this team.

"They're a great group of kids. Their personality, their character - everything about them makes me love to coach them. To win that sectional title was a piece of history, and hopefully there's many more to come."

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