Repeating as Class A-2 girls basketball champs was one of Amherst’s goals coming into the season.
The Tigers have others in mind, though, and so does their opponent coming up in the overall Class A championship.
No. 2 Amherst’s 64-44 win over No. 4 Iroquois (19-4) in the A-2 final at SUNY Buffalo State Sunday evening sets up a rematch against Main Street rival Williamsville South for a berth in Saturday’s Far West Regionals at Section V’s Rush-Henrietta.
“I think it’s something that they wanted to accomplish,” Tigers coach Mike Chatelle said. “We still know that there are some other goals ahead that we were shooting for. We know it won’t be easy. I don’t think the trip through this has really been that easy, so we’re going to have to continue to get better. South is pretty darn good.”
Amherst came into last year’s final against the Billies as the underdog, having dropped close 53-50 and 57-53 games during the regular season. Yet the Tigers blitzed South in the postseason and came away with a 63-47 win to earn the program's first trip to regionals.
The script has played out similarly this year, as the Billies (17-5) have 63-51 and 63-40 wins over Amherst (17-6).
Round three, part two comes Wednesday at 6 p.m. back at Buffalo State.
“I think we understand they’re on a mission,” Chatelle said. “They have something to prove. I know it’s been their goal all year long right from the beginning, so we just need to make sure we stand up to the challenge and play our game.”
Amherst started last year’s A-2 final against Olean on a 20-5 run and cruised to a 70-50 victory. It broke open this year’s game with a similar streak, but it didn’t happen until the end of the third quarter.
The Tigers led the rest of the way after Emma Wanzer hit her first of five three-pointers 2:40 into the game for a 5-2 lead. The freshman and younger sister of last year’s star senior Claire Wanzer had 13 points and two of her threes during the opening quarter as Amherst led 17-8 after eight minutes.
Wanzer finished with 26 points, double her season average, and seven rebounds but didn’t score in the second quarter. Amherst was still able to extend its lead to 28-15 heading into halftime.
“She played great,” Chatelle said of Wanzer. “I think we played overall a clean team game. I didn’t think we turned the ball over too much, and that’s what we’ve always done. We always strive to get about 90 percent of assists out of our baskets. ... We’re always trying to create so you can make the best pass.”
A pair of triples by Iroquois freshman Emily McLaughlin (15 points) and four free throws from senior Taylor Quinn (12 points) helped the Chiefs pull within 41-34 late in the third quarter.
Amherst responded by switching defenses from it’s full-court press to trapping in the corners once Iroquois crossed half court. That was part of what allowed the Tigers to go on a 23-5 run over the next six-plus minutes to put the game well out of reach.
“I think we kept our composure,” Chatelle said. “I think they may have gotten a little fatigued. We were in a battle on Tuesday too (in an overtime win against Lake Shore), so they kept their composure and poise and pulled through. We knew it would probably come, and it just took a little longer.”
Tigers junior Leah Shutts (12 points) and freshman Emma Klein (nine points) each recorded seven steals and will be counted on heavily to create more havoc against Williamsville South Wednesday.
Amherst gave up size inside to Iroquois’ pair of 6-foot forwards Riley Reidel and Sarah Wittek but limited them to a combined seven points. The Tigers need more of the same if they want to have success against the Billies, who boast one of the top players in Western New York in 6-foot-5 Amari DeBerry.
“We’re familiar with each other,” Chatelle said. “I don’t know. It’s tough to duplicate 6-5, so we’ll see.”