What a bummer it was for Hannah Dolan and the Williamsville South girls basketball team last year as Dolan's bum ankle made her a helpless spectator during the overall Section VI Class A final against rival Amherst – a defeat that has served as the fuel that has motivated her and her teammates this entire season.
A healthy Dolan made up for last year's absence Wednesday night, and that proved to be phenomenal news for Williamsville South and a bad thing for the Tigers.
The Billies are Section VI Class A champions again as they ended Amherst's title reign by taking a 62-43 decision from their Main Street rival at the Buffalo State Sports Arena.
Dolan, South's sophomore point guard, poured in a game-high 28 points, but even more important than her scoring contribution was her ability to dribble the ball and facilitate the offense. That negated Amherst's ability to pressure the ball in the backcourt, slowing down a transition game that had turned last year's sectional final into a frustrating experience for the Billies.
"We're much happier with this year's outcome," freshman center Amari DeBerry said.
"Me not being able to play last year obviously it hurt," said Dolan, who missed last year's final with an ankle fracture. "Being able to come back to the team and be able to rally around if someone is struggling being able to bring us back here really meant a lot to everybody."
Williamsville South coach Kristen Dolan, who is also Hannah's mother, said last year was a tough experience for Hannah. While that may have been difficult, it didn't stop the coach from using that as a motivator.
"We talked to Hannah in here how she's the conductor of the orchestra or the captain of the ship. I looked right after her and said 'you saw it last year Hannah. We missed you,' " Kristen Dolan said "We rely so heavily on a point guard who can handle the pressure and keep composed and take care of the ball and distribute."
Hannah Dolan (two assists, two steals, one block) also drained big shots, serving as a complement to 6-foot-5 DeBerry (22 points, nine rebounds, eight blocks, five steals). Dolan scored 15 points in the first half, hitting four of her six three-pointers as the Billies took a 33-31 lead into halftime.
Among Dolan's biggest shots: She drained a three to tie the game at 23-23 and then followed with another from trey to give her team a 26-25 edge and ended the half with a layup that gave her team the lead for good.
"She came out early and did a nice job," Amherst coach Mike Chatelle said. "Hannah's a great point guard. That team has a talented big (DeBerry), a talented point shooter in Lauren (Lassiter). You have to play a perfect game against them."
The Class A-2 champion Tigers (17-7) tried but South (18-5) had too much. Any time they got close, the Billies responded with a key basket. In the fourth quarter, South got defensive stops as it limited Amherst to just three points after entering the quarter with a 46-40 edge.
"We just kept saying we had to keep coming out with energy after every timeout and make them run the shot clock down," Hannah Dolan said.
"We really stressed being out on their shooters, making sure we took away any penetration inside," coach Dolan said. "Since last year this has been on the girls mind. … A ton of credit to Amherst they're unbelievable."
It was just Williamsville South's day as it captured its third overall Section VI championship in five years but first since 2015 when it won the state title.
South returns to action Saturday in the Far West Regional/New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association quarterfinal at 11 a.m. against Section V champion Pittsford Mendon at Rush-Henrietta High School.
The Billies will have a daunting task as they opened the season against Mendon – dropping a 69-46 decision, but that was a long time ago and as folks know by now anything can happen in March.