JAMESTOWN – There were 8.9 seconds left, and East High School trailed Ellicottville, 61-60, in the boys basketball Section VI, Class D semifinal.
Was there any doubt who would get the ball?
Willard Anderson took the inbounds pass, zipped down the court, cut to his left, penetrated the lane, and laid in a shot with about three seconds left. That was the difference, as the Panthers pulled out a thrilling 62-61 victory at Jamestown Community College.
“Someone has to take over in that situation, and I took over,” said Anderson, who finished with 37 points. “I didn’t want to go home” for the season.
Next up for East (16-6) is Franklinville, the Class D defending champion. It defeated Sherman, 61-45, in Tuesday’s other semifinal.
On a night when there were heroes on both sides of the initial playoff contest, Anderson was the best player on the court. He proved it in those final seconds.
“The amount of pressure they put on him – it was great,” coach Starling Bryant said. “He draws two or three guys on him, and he willed himself to get it there. We missed a couple of shots, but he took it upon himself to win the game.”
It was a crushing loss for Ellicottville (19-3), which had battled back in the fourth quarter to be in position to win. When Griffin Chudy sank two free throws to put the Eagles up a point, they were close enough to dream.
“I had full confidence in Griff,” Eagles coach Dave McCann said about his timeout between the free throws. “We wanted to try and make sure the kids knew to get back because we knew Anderson was going to get the ball, and he was going to get a head of steam. He got to the basket. We didn’t get a stop.”
Chudy led Ellicottviile with 16 points, while Elliot Bowen added 15.
For most of the game, it looked as if East was going to win by a comfortable margin. The Panthers’ press was effective as they jumped out to a 10-point lead after a period. The margin was still 10 a few seconds into the fourth quarter.
Then Ellicottville found its game, going on a 15-2 run to take a 56-53 lead with three minutes to go. It was back and forth from there, with Anderson hitting three straight foul shots with 25 seconds after he was fouled in the act of shooting. That set up the final dramatic moments.
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The game was a tough act to follow. Franklinville (19-3) and Sherman earned every point they scored, particularly in a flow-less first half in which the Panthers led, 21-17. Part of the problem for Franklinville was that it was 1 for 14 from three-point land at one point and finished 4 for 24.
“I didn’t think we’d have the jitters but we did,” Panthers coach Jeff Haskell said. “Hopefully we got them out of the way.
“You can get away with it if you end up doing smart things, strong things. Four of 24 – that’s not going to cut it.”
The Wildcats were still in range, trailing by 40-35 with about six minutes left. But then Samuel Erickson went to work. He scored 11 straight points for Franklinville, leading his team to a 12-point lead before fouling out.
Erickson finished with 18 points, while Darrin Clark had 20. For Sherman (16-6), Jared Gleason led the way with 16 points.
It will be the No. 1 seed East vs. No. 3 Franklinville in Friday’s Class D final at 6 p.m. back at Jamestown CC. That doesn’t give Haskell much time to enjoy this one – as his team has 48 hours before it goes up against Anderson and Co.