One side had been there before. The other, not so much.
In the Section IV Class A1 Girls Finals, it was No. 1 and now four-time defending champs Williamsville South who took down No. 3 Hamburg in a rather close 59-50 win. As for the A2 Girls Finals, it was the No. 3 seeded Amherst Tigers, playing in their first final since 2010, who cruised by No. 4 Olean 70-50.
Will South stepped up when they needed to, and when things got tight, the team responded and upped their level of play.
“It’s exciting. Just getting here was our goal for the season,” said Billies head coach Kristen Dolan. “We lost Hannah (Dolan) in the first round, and we knew losing that ballhandler was huge. We knew everyone had to do a little bit more.”
The Billies cruised past Hamburg in the regular season 69-29 and 75-50, but the Bulldogs played feisty and made things interesting. Despite the Bulldogs never leading, they seemed to be within striking distance all 32 minutes, as they trailed only 53-49 with under a minute to play.
“Hamburg is a very talented team and with (Katie) Villarini and (Maggie) Vesneske (18 and 17 points respectively) we had to respect their talent and what they could do. They came out with a lot of energy. We struggled a little bit when we lost our focus, we need to keep working on that because we’re young,” said Dolan.
However, the story of the game had to be Will South 8th grader Amari DeBerry. She finished with a game high 21 points and dominated in the paint on both the offensive and defensive ends.
“For defense, it really helps with my sister Naomi,” said DeBerry. “She’s great at boxing out and that helps me get boards. Same on the offensive end with her feeding me the ball.”
The sisterly duo of Naomi and Amari DeBerry finished with 31 combined points. Amari’s massive block to end the game capped off the championship victory.
The second game of the day had its fireworks, but was not as close of a contest.
Amherst jumped out to a 20-5 lead at one point early in the second quarter, and that offensive outburst was too much for the Huskies to recover from. Despite an impressive shooting performance from Olean star Sara Pffeifer who scored a game high 34, she had no support, as no other Husky scored more than five.
“We knew Sara Pfeiffer was tough and that she was going to get hers. I thought we played hard on her,” said Amherst head coach Mike Chatelle. “We had to limit her and hope nobody else hurt us, and it worked out. We put some points up ourselves too.”
The Tigers were led by 8th grader Emma Klein who had a career high 23 points, including two three point plays that helped seal the deal. Senior Claire Wanzer had 18, and adds to her Amherst all-time scoring record which now stands at 1,679 points.
“I thought the game felt a lot closer than what the score said. 3 point shots add up quick,” said Wanzer. “Sara (Pfeiffer) really changed the game. Putting defensive pressure on them helped us.”
Although the Tigers were up by double digits a majority of the game, a strong push by Olean brought things to 35-30 at one point in the third, but it wasn’t enough, as the Tigers outscored them 15-7 the rest of the quarter.
For Wanzer, winning the title in her final season and fifth season on the team meant a lot.
“I’m so happy because I’ve never been here before and never been able to win it. It feels great,” said Wanzer.
Next up for both sides? a showdown with each other.
On how Amherst could pull out a win against the top seeded Will South, a short answered sufficed.
“I don’t know,” said Chatelle. “South is tough, they have inside and outside game.”
The Billies and Tigers will go head to head in the overall Class A Final at Buff State on March 8th.