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Elmont Memorial overpowers Williamsville South in state Class A girls basketball semifinals

TROY – Having the best player on the court has led to plenty of wins for the Williamsville South girls basketball team this season.

It didn’t on Saturday.

Despite a game-high 30 points from 6-foot-5 freshman Amari DeBerry, Section VIII’s Elmont Memorial (23-2) simply overpowered the Billies (19-6) in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class A semifinals when it mattered most and advanced to Saturday’s championship with a 70-61 win.

“It’s tough losing a game like this,” South coach Kristen Dolan said at Hudson Valley Community College. “No one likes to be in this position. If we made a few more plays, we’d be on the other end of it. I’m just so proud of them, from where they were and where they came from and how hard they worked throughout the season to get here and be one of the last four teams standing.”

Four players had at least 13 points for the Spartans, who were led by Zhaneia Thybulle’s 20. They made a living around the basket, scoring 50 points in the paint and shooting 54 percent (28 of 52) from the field.

Some of those easy buckets came off Elmont’s 16 forced steals. South committed 12 additional turnovers on top of that.

“They definitely knew what we liked to do,” Dolan said. “They definitely knew exactly how we play. They were ready for us and they were the better team today. ... They were here last year, so we have a little more youth than they do.”

Amari DeBerry, one of the top players in the country at her age, also finished with six rebounds and a pair of blocks. Junior Tatyjana Scalisi had 14 points and 18 rebounds, and senior Naomi DeBerry, Amari’s older sister, scored 11 points.

“Amari knew that we needed to go to her,” Dolan said. “It’s just there were times that we lost our composure and couldn’t solve their pressure or just made some bad decisions with it.”

Elmont’s pressing defense overwhelmed the Billies early on. The Spartans scored 15 straight points after South took a 5-4 lead, its only one of the game, but the Billies kept it afloat and brought the score to 22-11 after eight minutes.

South outscored the Spartans, 21-13, in the second quarter to bring their deficit to 35-32 at the break. Naomi scored nine points in the frame and had an impressive sequence where she made a three-pointer, blocked a shot on the defensive end, hit a long two to make it 33-32 and then had a steal.

The Billies made it a one-possession game five different times throughout the first six minutes of the third quarter but just couldn’t find a way to break even or take the lead.

“I thought it was coming,” Dolan said. “I thought maybe we’ll get on track here. We just couldn’t find our rhythm and get in sync, and so we were trying to scramble.”

Hannah Dolan brought it to 39-38 on a spinning left-handed finish midway through the third quarter, but the Spartans closed on a 10-3 burst to extend its lead to 49-41. She was injured in the closing seconds on a contested loose ball and didn’t return in the fourth.

The Billies wouldn’t get any closer than 49-45 after two Scalisi free throws with 7:11 to go.

Coach Dolan appreciated the sight of some familiar faces in the stands. A handful of girls from South’s 2015 state championship team made the drive from Buffalo. Current senior Lauren Lassiter was a freshman that season.

“That just means so much to have them here,” Dolan said. “Knowing what they accomplished because you realize it’s magical to get here, and then it’s unbelievable if you win it all. It’s so difficult to do, so to have them all make the trip back is very special. The girls feel bad they just couldn’t get to that next game.”

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