A year after losing a championship game in the must gut-wrenching way possible, the South Park boys basketball team put itself in a position where it didn't have to worry about losing via a buzzer-beating basket.
Instead the Sparks basked in the glow of knowing that once the final horn sounded that they had indeed ended a Section VI championship drought of more than three decades.
South Park did it in a big way.
The Sparks dialed up the defensive intensity and turned a close game into a rout as they ran away from Lake Shore, 74-42, to win the Class A-2 championship Saturday night at the Buffalo State Sports Arena.
Sophomore Anthony Mack recorded a triple-double of 19 points, 15 steals and 11 assists, while David Stroud scored a game-high 23 points for the Sparks, who scored lots of easy baskets thanks to the pestering defense provided by Mack.
An estimated crowd of more than 2,500 – some undoubtedly showing up early for the huge Class A-1 final between unbeaten West Seneca West and Williamsville South – watched South Park use its quickness and determination to pull away from the Eagles after halftime to win their first Section VI basketball title since 1985.
"It feels good," said senior Ray Mushat, who finished with 10 points. "Last year it was a tough loss. This year we wanted to turn it around. I'm just happy we won because last year was heartbreaking. This year we got it done."
Last season, South Park erased a four-point deficit in the final minute of the A-2 final to take a lead and then rallied to tie in the final seconds at 53 before Jordan Barr scored on a putback at the buzzer to give Amherst the title.
No such drama this time as South Park adjusted its defense at halftime, moving to a zone-press to quickly turn a 34-26 advantage into an insurmountable deficit for a Lake Shore crew trying to win its first sectional title since 1977.
Mack was the key as relentless pressure forced mistakes and when Eagles escaped him they did so only to find another South Park defender in the way.
"Third quarter we switched up the defense," South Park coach Pete Hudecki said. "We did like a man-zone press and kind of gave Anthony carte blanche to do whatever he wants and kind of boxed up the back side and rotated it into doubles. We tried to do it in the second quarter off the wipe boards but we needed to do a better job explaining it at halftime and we did a better job at halftime. The kids understood it. It was great."
It led to a 23-5 blitz in which Stroud and Mushat each scored five points. Deabeyon Humphrey started the blitz with a three-pointer. With the score 40-28, Mack made back-to-back steals and finished with back-to-back layups.
"That's what he does," Mushat said of Mack's defense. "He helps a lot. I always talk to him about it. I'm trying to learn something from him."
Jon Park had 14 points to lead Lake Shore (15-8).
The win by South Park (14-9) means two Yale Cup teams won sectional titles after the Buffalo Public Schools league got shutout of championships last year for the first time since 1977.
Hudecki had to slow down the kids during the awards presentation. They wanted to line up quickly and get it over with not realizing that this year's post-game awards presentation was different. They had to go last because it's a champion's coronation.
"These guys put in a lot of work to figure out how to work together," Hudecki said. "It just happens these guys are peaking at the right time. Thank God we were able to bring it together at the right time during a playoff run."