Win or go home.
That's what it all comes down to for the 90 girls basketball teams in Section VI and the Monsignor Martin Association set to embark on paths that can lead to championship glory.
A Section VI team hasn't won a state title since 2015, when Williamsville South captured the NYSPHSAA Class A crown. Can the Billies recapture that magic this season? They showed they can compete with anybody during a four-point loss to Cardinal O'Hara Saturday afternoon.
What about Franklinville, the last unbeaten team left in WNY? It has to dethrone perennial Class D power Panama.
Some brackets seem more predictable than others, but who really knows what’s going to happen in the heat of battle? No one, but this corner is going to give it his best shot at predicting the favorites, contenders, sleepers and more for the 2018 postseason.
Last year’s champion: Clarence.
Favorite: No. 1 Orchard Park.
Contenders: No. 2 Lancaster, No. 3 Lockport.
Potential sleeper: No. 6 Clarence.
Top quarterfinal: Clarence at Lockport.
It wouldn’t be a surprise if any of the top seven seeds reach the final. That makes this the deepest field from top to bottom in the Section VI playoffs.
Orchard Park’s the favorite with its experience, inside-outside balance and depth throughout the lineup. The Quakers could have made a run last season if it weren’t for a rash of injuries.
Clarence lost a coin flip for the No. 5 seed to Jamestown, meaning the Red Devils visit No. 3 Lockport. Clarence isn't as strong at guard as it was last season but still boasts one of the top interior duos in the area with seniors Ella Rose Eckert and Carly Reynolds. It’s a tougher draw for the Lions, who also have some size along with athleticism in the backcourt.
Lancaster handed OP its only loss this season and also split ECIC I meetings with Frontier, its first-round matchup.
If Frontier and Clarence both earn seeding upsets, it would set up a rematch of last year’s sectional final in the semifinals March 2 at Kenmore West. The Red Devils snapped a 12-year title drought by winning a low-scoring 34-31 game in 2017.
Last year’s champion: Williamsville South.
Favorite: No. 1 Williamsville South.
Contenders: No. 2 Grand Island, No. 3 Kenmore East.
Potential sleeper: No. 6 Hamburg.
Top potential quarterfinal: Hamburg at Kenmore East.
It would take a HUGE upset to keep Williamsville South from coming out of this bracket. The Billies shouldn’t have a problem reaching the overall Class A championship at Buffalo State on March 7.
Grand Island and Kenmore East beat each other in Niagara Frontier League play. They could meet for a third time in the semifinals Feb. 28 at Clarence.
The biggest threat to the top four seeds reaching the semis is Hamburg. The Bulldogs graduated quite a bit from last year but were competitive playing a tough nonleague slate against Orchard Park, Clarence, Lancaster and Panama, among others.
West Seneca East could have been the sleeper if it didn’t draw the No. 8 seed and have to potentially travel to Williamsville South in the quarters. The Trojans beat Grand Island in a nonleague game last Friday, 61-55.
Last year’s champion: Amherst.
Favorite: No. 1 East Aurora.
Contenders: No. 2 Amherst, No. 3 Lake Shore, No. 4 Iroquois.
Potential sleeper: No. 7 Maryvale.
Top potential quarterfinal: Maryvale at Amherst.
The top four seeds are all among the top nine large schools in Western New York, which could make next Tuesday’s semifinals at Kenmore West the most competitive of any bracket.
East Aurora was among the favorites to win the Class B title last year before star player Emma Brinker tore her ACL. She’s back and forms a dominating frontcourt with Sarah Tully. The Blue Devils swept ECIC III rivals Lake Shore and Iroquois during the regular season.
Defending Class A champ Amherst doesn’t rely on any one scorer – four or five players could lead the team on any given night. The Tigers showed in early December that they can play with the best after holding first-quarter and halftime leads in an eventual 63-57 loss to Cardinal O’Hara.
Lake Shore lost to Amherst in the semifinals last year and there could be a potential rematch. Sophie Snyder just returned for the Eagles, giving them even more speed and depth at guard.
Maryvale took Lake Shore to overtime two weeks ago in a 65-61 loss and has four players who average at least 8.75 points.
Last year’s champion: Fredonia.
Favorite: No. 1 Newfane.
Contenders: No. 4 Albion, No. 5 Fredonia.
Potential sleeper: No. 10 Medina.
Top potential quarterfinal: Fredonia at Albion.
Newfane has a top player in Paige Emborsky and lost its lone game of the season to ranked large school Iroquois. Its toughest test might be a potential semifinal matchup with the winner of Fredonia and Albion, which had a competitive season in the Niagara-Orleans League.
The Hillbillies won Class B last year and reached the state final four as a No. 6 seed. They are once again better than their seeding or record (8-12) indicates. Nine of their losses came against teams ranked in the polls and none are in this bracket.
Medina draws two Canisius Cup schools again after beating No. 4 MST Seneca and top-seeded Olmsted last season on the way to the Class B-2 final. If the Mustangs beat No. 7 MST Tuesday, they visit No. 2 I-Prep/Grover Thursday for a spot in the semifinals.
No. 3 City Honors could also make a run at the bottom of the bracket. The Centaurs feature freshman center Kyra Wood, who’s third in Section VI scoring 22.9 points per game. No. 11 Dunkirk is another sleeper candidate.
Last year’s champion: Wilson.
Favorite: No. 3 Southwestern.
Contenders: No. 1 Olmsted, No. 2 Eden, No. 4 Wilson.
Potential sleeper: No. 5 Akron.
Top potential quarterfinal: Akron at Wilson.
Much like Class A-2, the top four seeds in this bracket are all ranked in the top 10 among small schools.
Southwestern didn’t lose a game until dropping the first two of three last week, but its duo of Alanna Dibble and Erin Radack keeps it the favorite. The Trojans lost to eventual champion Wilson in the quarters last year.
Niagara-Orleans rivals Wilson and Akron split during the regular season. The Lakewomen are hitting their stride and nearly beat Class C contender Allegany-Limestone last Friday. The Tigers are athletic and can pile up the points if their shots are falling from beyond the arc.
Olmsted is the top seed again and has three girls averaging more than 10 points per game. Eden is very young and talented but tough to gauge since it wasn’t tested much in ECIC IV.
Last year’s champions: Frewsburg, C-2 – Chautauqua Lake.
Favorite: No. 2 Allegany-Limestone.
Contenders: No. 1 Holland, No. 3 Chautauqua Lake.
Potential sleeper: No. 7 Portville.
Top potential quarterfinal: Portville at Allegany-Limestone.
Class C is one large bracket of 13 teams instead of splitting into two as in previous years. That makes it the second-most competitive behind Class AA with the first three seeds among the top seven small schools in WNY.
Allegany-Limestone has the deepest roster. Fifth-year senior Morgan Davis joined the 1,000-point and 1,000-rebound clubs this season. She averages 19.1 points and 13.4 rebounds per game, while five of her teammates score at least five points per game.
Chautauqua Lake beat the Gators in the C-2 final last year, 57-51, and return the inside-outside duo of Jesse Zenns and Katelyn Fardink. Holland is led by the post play of fifth-year senior Cassidy Slocum.
Portville has been receiving poll votes all year and has nice wins over Olmsted and Randolph. It also lost to Holland by four points and Allegany-Limestone twice by five points each time.
Maple Grove could be a dangerous No. 5 seed. The Red Dragons have two competitive losses to Chautauqua Lake and beat Fredonia two weeks ago.
Last year’s champion: Panama.
Favorite: No. 1 Panama.
Contender: No. 2 Franklinville.
Potential sleeper: No. 5 Pine Valley.
Top quarterfinal: Pine Valley at Ellicottville.
Anything but a Panama-Franklinville final the afternoon of March 3 at Jamestown Community College would be a big surprise. It would be a rematch from the last two years. Panama won in overtime in 2017, 79-68, and blew out Franklinville in 2016, 70-44.
Panama has been to three straight NYSPHSAA semifinals and is the two-time defending state runner-up. The Panthers remain the favorite until someone knocks them off. The only team to do that so far this season was Class AA Frontier.
At 20-0, Franklinville is the last unbeaten in Western New York.
Will the size of Panama’s sophomore forwards Natalie Angeletti and Kylie Schnars secure the four-peat? Or will Franklinville guards Allyson Haskell, Danielle Haskell and Abby McCoy end the streak?
Pine Valley is the last school not named Panama to win Class D. It has one of the top scorers in WNY in senior guard Kayla Hohl (20.9 ppg) and split with its first-round counterpart, Ellicottville, during the regular season.
Last year’s champions: Class A – Cardinal O’Hara, Class B – Nardin.
Favorites: Class A – No. 1 Cardinal O’Hara, Class B – No. 1 Nardin.
Contenders: Class A – No. 2 Sacred Heart. Class B – No. 3 Christian Central.
Potential sleeper: Class A – No. 3 Mount St. Mary.
Top potential semifinal: Class A – Sacred Heart vs. Mount St. Mary.
The reigning champions are the favorites to claim first place again.
Cardinal O’Hara has only eight players on its roster, yet the Hawks play at an unrelenting pace on both ends of the floor that Western New York foes just can’t keep up with. They won their 87th straight game against local competition at Williamsville South Saturday.
Sacred Heart has the size and shooting with the Ryan sisters but has struggled with bringing the ball up against O’Hara’s full-court press. Mount St. Mary junior Lois Garlow is capable of taking over a game.
Nardin beat Buffalo Seminary in the final last year, 31-20. Lindsay Karas is one of the top scorers on the team. Christian Central senior Charly Hearon has had some impressive scoring outputs this season.
The winner of the Class A championship March 2 at Villa Maria will head to the Class AA state Catholic playoffs, while the runner-up will represent Buffalo in Class A. O’Hara lost in the AA semis and Nardin the B semis last year. Sacred Heart lost in the Class A championship.