West Seneca West endured plenty of drama that tested its mettle this season. It’s made the Indians tougher and stronger – all the attributes possessed by a champion.
And a boys basketball season that started with West struggling to find itself has once again reached the point in which the Indians are one win away from returning to the New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association tournament.
So too is Lewiston-Porter, the lone Section VI team standing in West’s way.
West Seneca West defended its Section VI Class A-1 championship by defeating Williamsville East, 74-59, to cap the Class A-1 and A-2 doubleheader Saturday night at Buffalo State Sports Arena.
The Indians put it all together during a third quarter in which they overcame a five-point deficit to seize the lead for good. Adrian Baugh returned from first-half foul trouble to finish with 22 points and 11 rebounds, while senior Maurice Robertson shouldered the scoring load in his absence and added 20 points to go with seven boards and six assists.
West, the No. 5 seed, remained the last team standing in a bracket that saw the Nos. 5, 6 and 7 seeds all reach the semifinals. WSW took out top-seeded Sweet Home in a semifinal Thursday before completing the repeat by beating the seventh-seeded Flames.
“It feels good. We went through a lot this year,” Baugh said. “A lot of stuff with Juston (Johnson). I felt like that was an obstacle we had to overcome and we did.”
Lew-Port ended a 41-year sectional championship drought by defeating Amherst, 51-40, in the Class A-2 final. Trent Scott scored 21 points, while freshman Roddy Gayle chipped in with 20 points and more importantly played blanket defense on the Tigers’ top scorer.
Lew-Port and West meet for the overall Class A title Tuesday night with the winner advancing to the state quarterfinals next Saturday at Greece Athena in suburban Rochester.
West expected to have Johnson, a first team All-Western New York selection during last year’s 24-1 campaign, back leading the charge for a repeat. He practiced with the team, but the failure to receive an eligibility extension led to him not playing in any games. He transferred to a prep school in Tennessee after Christmas.
While West players were vocal in their support of Johnson and his quest to play his senior season with them, they found a way to adjust to life without him. The Indians (13-11) also overcame a 0-4 start and are playing their best basketball of the season when it matters as they now have won four straight after a stretch in which they lost four of five.
They have received contributions from many this postseason, which included them winning a pre-quarterfinal without leading scorer Baugh.
“If there’s one thing this team has is character and the ability to persevere,” coach Des Randall said. “We start the season with everything we went through with Juston. You come into the season thinking you can probably repeat and go undefeated and then you take a big hit like that, start slow trying to figure out who we are where to go from here and then you get hit with the injury bug ... we’ve even had two kids whose grandfathers passed away. It’s been everything.
“They show up every day ready to fight. They had one goal and that was to win it all and repeat as A-1 champs and get a shot to repeat as crossover. I commend them on just being mature young men, being able to handle so much adversity.”
They overcame a five-point halftime deficit during a 65-second stretch to open the third quarter as Robertson scored five points and Baugh a point to give the Indians the lead for good. Nate Ryniec followed with a layup to push the lead to 39-35. The lead kept growing to 48-40 and 55-48 at the end of the quarter as West changed defenses to slow down East.
Cal Shifflet had 15 points to lead the Flames (11-13).
In Class A-2, Gayle drew some inspiration from watching an ex-teammate and fellow freshman Willie Lightfoot lead Niagara Falls to victory. While he scored just more than half of Lightfoot’s total 39, the fact he held Amherst’s Jayden Stewart to just six points (10 below his average) proved to be the key to victory, according to Lancers coach Matt Bradshaw – who was a ball boy for the Lancers when they last won sectionals.
“That was the difference,” Bradshaw said. “He shut Stewie down. He was unbelievable. ... That’s what won this game for us our defense.”
“(This is) huge. It hasn’t happened since 1978,” Bradshaw said. “My step father was the coach. That’s when my basketball dream at Lew-Port started. I’ve been there my whole life. ... It’s special.”
Gayle turned the tide in Lew-Port’s favor for good late in the second quarter. After a putback pulled the Lancers within 21-20 with 29 seconds left in the period, he foiled Amherst’s quest at holding for a final shot by picking off a pass at half court and going into for a layup that turned into a traditional three-point play since he got fouled on the play.
He then made a free throw early in the third quarter that broke a 23-23 knot, the final tie in this game, to spark a 9-0 run in which Scott drained a pair of threes. Gayle’s three-pointer with 5:48 left made it 40-32 as the lead never dipped below two possessions.
“I seen them (Falls) win so I thought it was our turn,” Gayle said. “This feels great.”