Jaylen Stewart knows what it’s like to be on a team that wins it all.
The junior went through the experience last season with Park School, which earned the right to be called the overall champion of New York State by winning the Federation Tournament.
While Stewart was a reserve with the Pioneers, he’s more than that with his new team, Amherst. He has played a big role in the Tigers not just returning to familiar Buffalo State surroundings after a one-year absence but also earning a shot at the championship.
Stewart scored 15 of his game high 23 points during the first half and sparked the run that enabled top-seeded Amherst to run away from fourth-seeded Iroquois 70-48 in a Section VI Class A-2 semifinal at Buffalo State on Wednesday. Stewart drained a three-pointer that gave the Tigers (19-3) the lead for good. It also sparked a 17-3 run that covered the final 3 minutes, 48 seconds of the second quarter and opening 2 minutes of the third.
“He’s a team-first guy, very unselfish, he’s very smooth,” Amherst coach Chris Kensy said. “He’s able to knock down the open shot, finish at the basket and he defends.”
Stewart flaunted all those skills in helping the Tigers reach their seventh sectional final in eight years.
Amherst will face No. 2 seed Lewiston-Porter in battle between Buffalo News large schools ranked in the top five at 7 p.m. Saturday night at Buffalo State.
Lew-Port crushed third-seeded Cheektowaga, 75-44, as the Lancers (19-3) received sparks from Zachary Clayborne and Jack Bernstein and a sensational defensive effort during the third quarter.
This is Lew-Port’s first final since losing a thriller in 2016 to Amherst.
“Nobody expected us to be here then,” Lancers coach Matt Bradshaw said. “People are expecting us to be here now.”
In the final game of the semifinal tripleheader at Buffalo State, third-seeded Olmsted defeated No. 10 Burgard, 57-47, in Class B-2.
Amherst, ranked fifth in the News poll, stretched its winning streak to 17 straight games. It appeared for a moment that Iroquois might give the Tigers problems, especially after Matt Matla’s three-pointer gave the Chiefs a 22-21 lead.
After a timeout, Stewart drained a three to give Amherst the lead for keeps. Ja’Kye Womack, a member of the last Tigers team to win the title, followed with two free throws and a steal that led to a layup by Stewart. He then knocked down another three as Amherst went into halftime leading 31-25.
Stewart (five rebounds and five assists) didn’t get much playing time with Park last season, but did get lots of work honing his skills practicing against talents like Noah Hutchins, Dan Scott and Brandon Smith.
Even though Stewart liked being part of a championship outfit, he had a good reason for transferring.
“I thought it would be a better opportunity for me,” said Stewart, who came into the semifinal averaging 15.6 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. “I went to workouts over the summer and liked it. It was a good fit for me.”
With Roddy Gayle (14 points) dealing with early foul trouble, the Lancers of Lewiston-Porter received a boost first from Clayborne and then Bernstein. Clayborne scored nine of his 16 points during the first half, while Bernstein came off the bench in the second quarter to score eight of his 14 points. Bernstein’s three with 4:15 left in the second quarter tied the game at 20 and sparked an 11-0 run capped by a layup from Gayle (14 points). Lew-Port led 36-24 at halftime.
The Lancers, ranked second among large schools, pushed the lead to 54-24 on a Bernstein three with 2:53 left in the third quarter. Jason Solomon’s basket with under 2 minutes left in the quarter foiled Lew-Port’s bid at pitching a shutout for the quarter.
“We just played a better man (defense),” Bradshaw said of the Lancers’ third-quarter defensive effort. “If we’re going to continue this run, it starts with our defense.”
Marciano Lamar finished with a game-high 23 points, while Trevor Young scored eight of his 11 points during the second half to help the Owls of Yale Cup II break away from a Bulldogs team that plays in Yale Cup I. A putback from Deshaun Nikonowicz broke a 36-36 tie late in the third quarter. Lamar followed with a layup during a 12-4 run he capped with another layup.
Olmsted (17-5) faces Allegany-Limestone at noon to tip off Championship Saturday at Buffalo State. It’s the Owls’ first sectional final since winning C-1 in 2015.
“To get here feels pretty good,” Olmsted coach Andrew Bush said. “The captain core of Deshaun Nikonowicz, Trevor Young and Marciano Lamar ... that core has really sparked this team and everyone’s feeding off them.”