We interrupt what potentially was the most anticipated must-see Section VI girls basketball game of the season in order to bring folks another must-see matchup that hasn’t happened in a while.
And Lake Shore couldn’t be happier.
The Eagles finally know what it feels like to be a Section VI champion, again. Lake Shore rallied from a double-digit third quarter deficit to pull out a 67-62 victory over defending champion Amherst in the Class A-2 final Sunday before an estimated 1,000 at Buffalo State Sports Arena.
Tashawni Cornfield poured in a game-high 26 points, including four huge free throws in the final 30 seconds, to lead the Eagles to their first sectional title since 2016. Twin sister Noelani added 12 while Sophie Snyder had 14 for Lake Shore (20-2), including six during the final quarter, as the Eagles finally got the better of Amherst (18-5) after suffering season-ending losses to the Tigers in the sectional semifinals each of the past two seasons.
“Not even getting here two years in a row and then coming here and winning is the best feeling ever,” junior Noelani Cornfield said.
Lake Shore will be facing defending overall Class A champion Williamsville South on Wednesday night for the overall title at Buffalo State.
The Billies (17-6) captured their sixth straight sectional title by crushing Grand Island 65-45 in the Class A-1 game. Amari DeBerry led South with 16 points, while Ava Urbaniak added 14 as the Billies became the first girls team to win six straight Section VI titles. They shared the record with Grand Island, which won five straight from 2009-13.
“It feels good to win again, six in a row is a pretty big deal,” DeBerry said. “The way we’ve been playing all year, it has been for each other.”
While News No. 2 large school South takes a one-game-at-a-time approach, not looking past opponents, it is a bit surprising it won’t be meeting division rival and top-ranked Amherst for the third time this season and third time in as many seasons in the overall Class A.
That’s because sixth-ranked Lake Shore just refused to lose. Amherst bolted to an early 20-11 lead only to have to rally to tie before halftime at 35 on Amaya Woods’ third three-pointer. That’s because Tashawni Cornfield scored 12 of her points in the opening 24 minutes. She and her teammates hit the glass hard and whenever the opportunity presented itself to steal the ball they did it.
The Tigers surged ahead 49-38 on Leah Shutts’ three-pointer with 3:08 left in the third. But just like earlier, Lake Shore rallied behind the play of the Cornfields and Snyder, as they dialed up the defensive intensity and took the game away from the News’ No. 1 large school.
Snyder’s three-pointer with 4 minutes, 45 seconds left pulled the Eagles within 56-55. She hit a free throw on the next trip down the floor to tie it. A Tashawni Cornfield free throw a minute later broke the tie.
Amherst surged ahead 59- 57 on Leah Shutts’ three with 3:05 left. Cornfield tied it with a layup shortly after that and Snyder gave the Eagles the lead for good on a layup with 1:38 left.
With a chance to seal the deal at the line, Tashawni Cornfield did it — making four straight free throws.
“I was actually very scared because I was 0 for 5 the whole first half and then I was trying to adjust,” she said. “It was nerve racking. I was praying I made the first one because if I didn’t I probably would’ve been a lot more scared.”
“The girls just don’t give up. ... They want to win,” second-year coach Danielle Arnone said. “They’re very competitive. They came together and pulled it out in the end.”
Williamsville South didn’t look quite like its usual self but played well enough to make history as four players scored in double-figures.
Urbaniak, a sophomore, provided a huge lift with her offensive contributions in the paint against the ninth-ranked Vikings (19-4). She six of her 14 points during the first quarter with her putback sparking an 8-2 run that gave South its first double-digit lead. She converted a layup late in the second quarter to make 29-19, as the Billies went into intermission ahead 33-23.
“I was happy for Ava to come in and do what she needed to do. We needed her,” South coach Kristen Dolan said.
South picked up the intensity on defense after the intermission, leading to more offense as it scored 10 of the first 14 points in the third quarter and the lead never dipped below 10 again.
Lydia Sweeney had 27 points to lead Grand Island.
“It wasn’t the prettiest (win),” Dolan said. “We just have to get back into the gym on Monday and really get back to work because we’ll have our hands full (Wednesday).”