In the dying seconds of the Section VI Class B-1 girls final, Iroquois coach Steve Sokolski could be heard saying “Wow! What a game!”
He was echoing the thoughts of everyone inside the Buffalo State College Sports Arena.
Nadara Odell dropped 22 points as No. 5 Dunkirk scored a heart-stopping 79-76 win over No. 2 Iroquois to win the championship Sunday afternoon.
It’s the program’s first sectional title win since 1991.
“It was over the summer,” Odell said. “We were up at six in the morning to 8 p.m. Constantly running suicides left and right that’s where it really started. Summer league.”
The win puts the Lady Marauders on a collision course with B-2 champ Southwestern for the overall Class B title Wednesday at 5 p.m.
It will mark the third time the two clubs will clash with Dunkirk having taken both regular-season games.
Dunkirk used a combination of of outside shots and strong inside play to jump to what seemed to be a comfortable 22-9 lead after the first quarter.
But the Lady Chiefs didn’t go away. They slowly chipped away at the lead and were within 37-34 at the half.
While that spoke to Iroquois’ spirit, it also revealed the Maurauders’ mental toughness that they didn’t panic.
Now in his second year as head coach, Dunkirk’s Ken Ricker said from day one it was about changing the culture. To get the girls believing in themselves and in each other. Ricker firmly believes that’s where they are now.
“When I took the job, a lot of the administration said if you’re losing 4-0, [the] game’s over. I said ‘What do you mean?’ ” Ricker said. “They said ‘They get (upset). They can’t handle it.’ I coached my first summer league game and we came back from losing in the first quarter and (I heard) they never would have done that before. We’re gonna do that now.”
Ricker’s belief that every girl brings value to the team was perfectly illustrated in the ways players stepped up.
Olivia Smith sank six 3-point shots, and Kymi Nance added 16 points.
Tachiana Garcia scored seven points off the bench when Odell was in foul trouble.
Garcia extended the Dunkirk lead to 73-63 with just under four minutes to play.
Jessica Beehler hit a pair of free throws with two seconds left to ice the game.
Iroquois senior captain Logan Streety was an absolute warrior in her final game as a Chief as she led all players with 37 points and played with a will that kept her team in the game.
Emily McLaughlin also nailed back-to-back 3-pointers make the score 77-73.
“There ain’t nothing I can say. They did great,” Sokolski said of his team. “I’m so proud of them. We could have folded it up when we down by 14. ... I’m so proud of these kids.”
Southwestern wins B-2 final
The secret to their success is hard work.
Allison Lundmark had 16 points and eighth-grader Reece Beaver contributed 14 as Southwestern beat Eden, 54-44, to claim its third straight sectional title.
“Honestly, its the best feeling. I’ve never been on a varsity team that hasn’t won a sectional title,” said senior captain Gianna Hoose.
“There’s no team that works harder than ours. Every practice, we run like college practices. Every drill is down to the minute. We’re all so serious. We had this goal in mind from the very start of the season. And we’ve got the best coach to lead us there.”
Southwestern coach Dave Turnbull said success Sunday was a combo of peaking at the right time and having a mindset that is rooted in girls believing that no one will ever out work them.
“I think the core for us is I tell our girls to control what we can control,” he said. “And one of those things is conditioning. I think that we kind of set our sights on making sure we are the best conditioned team that we can possibly be and we take great pride in our defense.”
He also spoke about the way Beaver has stepped up.
“The sky is the limit for her,” Turnbull said.
Eden was led by Brooke Woodard’s 15 points. The Raiders showed flashes of their potent offense, but were unable to consistently string together a strong enough run to overtake the Trojans.