It was close enough to dream.
With 2 minutes and 20 seconds left in the Class A Far West Regionals, Amherst and Pittsford Mendon were tied, 53-53. To put it another way, Amherst was dead even with the top-ranked team in Class A in the state, as the Vikings were undefeated entering the game at 24-0.
Sadly for the Tigers, the Vikings were the ones who made the plays down the stretch. That gave Pittsford Mendon a 61-55 victory in the Buffalo State Sports Arena on Saturday.
"It never seemed like we were able to take the lead," an emotional coach Mike Chatelle of Amherst said after the game. "We were tied, but we expended so much energy trying to catch up. I have no problem with the effort.
"It stings right now and it's tough to take, but hopefully they'll reflect on how far they've come."
It took a little time for Amherst to realize it was up to the task it faced. The Tigers looked a little jittery at the beginning, as Pittsford Mendon jumped out to a 13-4 lead late in the first quarter. It wasn't a case of the Vikings dominating on the court, though.
"We had a bunch of good looks, and we had some slides for shuffle passes for easy lay-ups," senior standout Claire Wanzer said. "We just made some silly mistakes."
Amherst got back into the game in the second quarter, sparked by a 12-3 run. The Tigers wound up tied at 26-26 at the half, but there were no complaints about that.
"We told them there was no let up - it was fight, fight, fight, and they did," Chatelle said.
It was a similar story in the second half, as P-M jumped out to the lead and held it for about 12 minutes. But Amherst hung around as Leah Shutts' two free throws tied the contest. The game was up for grabs at the end, and the Vikings took it.
The Tigers wound up with a balanced attack. Pittsford-Mendon frequently double-teamed Wanzer whenever and wherever she had the ball. Wanzer had eight points. Eighth-grader Emma Klein had 12 points to lead Amherst, while Camryn Sullivan added 10 and Morgan Halt had nine.
"They're a good defensive team, but we kept our heads up and made some nice passes," Chatelle said.
For the Vikings, Sara Lyons had an enormous game. She finished with 25 points, including nine huge points in the fourth quarter.
Elimination games are always a time to look backwards and forwards. The memory of a Section VI Class A championship for the Tigers will eventually linger.
"In mid-December, we knew we had to get better," Chatelle said. "We got more confidence, trusted each other, and continued to work hard. We'll miss our seniors - Camryn" Sullivan, "Hannah" Smith, "and Claire. They led us in different ways."
Wanzer, who will play at Niagara University, hopes the seniors left something of a legacy behind.
"I never thought we'd make it this far," she said. "I think this helped the growth of the program. I hope there were some younger kids in the crowd that say, 'I want to be part of that someday.' "