Tuesday night’s “Backyard Brawl” between neighboring Olean and Allegany-Limestone could have been played at a gym – or, in better weather, in a park – somewhere in the Southern Tier. Instead the Section VI Class B final in boys basketball took place a 90-minute drive away at the Buffalo State Sports Arena.
For Olean, the outcome was worth the trip. The Huskies improved to 24-0 by scoring a 53-43 victory to advance to the Far West Regionals on Saturday.
“I think it was something special,” Olean coach Jeff Anastasia said. “Some of the (government officials) had a friendly little wager on the game. But it’s all in fun.
“These kids are all best friends. They have grown up together. They’ll be saying, ‘Remember when we beat you that time?’ ”
At first glance, the matchup wasn’t a particularly close game. The Gators only led at one point in the contest – by a 3-2 score. Olean pulled ahead in the first period, and there wasn’t a ton of drama the rest of the way.
“We came right out of the gate strong,” Anastasia said. “Mike (Schmidt) hit a couple of threes, and we got a couple of buckets off transition.”
The Huskies had a 20-13 lead after the first period. Their quick tempo looked as if it would be enough to go on to a relatively easy win. Olean built the margin to 32-22 at halftime.
But after the break, the Gators had their best chance to make a comeback. They kept the Huskies offense in check, especially in the first few minutes of the third period.
Olean didn’t score a point for the first four and a half minutes of the second half, as its offense was forced to slow down. But Allegany-Limestone could only score four points of its own in that span. It felt like a large opportunity had been missed, and that thought was reinforced when Olean put up six points in the final minutes of the period. With the lead back up to 10 at 38-28, a comeback against an undefeated team felt unlikely – and it was.
“Our defense has been a constant all year,” Anastasia said. “I try to preach that to the guys, and I think they believe that. When you aren’t shooting well, they understand that defense is ultimately going to keep you close.”
“We wanted to keep Schmidt out of the lane, and I thought we did a decent job of that,” Allegany-Limestone coach Glenn Anderson said. “When you make them do what they don’t want to do and they still win, you just have to tip your hat.”
Olean built its lead up to 13 points early in the fourth quarter, and Allegany-Limestone never got closer than seven the rest of the way.
Schmidt led a balanced attack for Olean with 11 points, while Josh Bihler had 10 points and four rebounds and Jack Dwaileebe had nine (all on three-pointers). Matt Droney had 10 rebounds, while Alex Weakfall had five assists. As those numbers suggested, everyone contributed something.
“We knew coming in it was going to be a battle,” Schmidt said. “Knowing all those guys, we knew they worked just as hard. We just wanted to go out and do our best.”
Jake Hnatyszyn had 14 points to lead the Gators, while Ben Giardini had 12 and Sam Flanders was held to 11 – which is what Anastasia was hoping to do.
“We wanted to tire him out,” the Olean coach said of the senior guard. “We’ve done that with good guards this season. By the end of the third, I wanted him dragging a little bit so that when he got a wide-open three, he wouldn’t have his legs.”
Great seasons usually come to an end at this time of the year, and such was the case for Allegany-Limestone. Anderson had no complaints about how the year went.
“It was a great season,” he said. “League title, section title, most wins in school history if I’m not mistaken. Losing to a great team at the end doesn’t diminish that at all.”
As for Olean, it is on to Greece Athena High School to play the Section V champion at 12:45 p.m. Saturday. The winner goes to the state’s final four.
“It doesn’t get any easier,” Anastasia said. “It’s gets tough, and rightly so. You have to play your best, and get some breaks – stay healthy. All of those things come into play. Hopefully, we’ll take another step on Saturday.”