All season long, it seemed they were on a collision course to meet up in the Class A1 Final. They've been the only two teams from Class A1 that were ranked in the top five all season. What a game it would be at 6:30 pm on Championship Saturday. But then late in the season, the Billies lost to Starpoint, surrendering the top seed in A1 and setting the stage for South to play the Macks in the semifinals instead. Ultimately, it didn't matter when they played. As it turned out, Williamsville South was the better team this year. They proved it on the court at Buff State, the place the Macks practically call home, and earned a trip back to the Class A1 Finals, looking to settle what they view as some unfinished business. Awaiting them will be North Tonawanda, a crew as gritty as they come, that hangs its hat on protecting the paint with perhaps the best 2-3 zone in the section.
Williamsville South 65, McKinley 61
Sam Castronova scored off the opening tip for the Billies on a confident move to the basket. There was no hesitation, just an aggressive, controlled finish at the basket. It was a definite sign of things to come. Midway through the opening quarter, the Billies took a 10-3 lead. The start of the game saw South getting good looks inside and finishing them with ease. Five different players scored for South in the first eight minutes, led by Kam Varner scoring six of his 16 points in the frame. McKinley scored just its second field goal of the quarter in the closing seconds and trailed 18-7 heading into the second quarter.
The Macks cut the deficit to 20-15 with an 8-2 run to start the second quarter. After a timeout, South got a basket from Varner. After getting a stop, Graham Dolan banged a '3' for the Billies, followed by a three-point play from Matt Foster, and with three minutes left before halftime, South had its largest lead of the game, 28-15. Just two seconds before halftime, Juwan Tolliver finished at the basket to cut the Billies' advantage to 32-23 at the intermission.
At the midway point of the third quarter, with South in front, 41-29, McKinley made its move. A 14-4 push to close the third quarter, with half of those points coming from Tolliver, got the Macks to within two, 45-43 heading into the final stanza. Just over a minute into the fourth, Devin Morris tied the game for McKinley at 45 apiece, and the Buff State Sports Arena was electric. McKinley had the momentum, and it looked like a good game plan from South had run its course. The Macks were about to wear another opponent down.
Instead, the complete opposite occured. Will South settled and got back to doing what had helped them to control the tempo for most of the game up to that point. Varner scored six more points to lead a 10-0 charge for the Billies and give them a 55-45 lead with 4:37 to go. McKinley got to within six points at the four minute mark, but it was the closest they would get until the buzzer sounded to end the game.
"We have so much respect for that program", Williamsville South coach Gabe Michael said. "I thought we were going to win, but I've got to say, they're tough. That's why we've had this game circled - and it wasn't even on our schedule".
South junior Graham Dolan had a standout performance defensively, limiting the penetration of McKinley's leading scorer, Morris, who was held to seven points in his final game. Dolan also scored six of his nine points over the last six minutes of the game.
The things that most stood out about what enabled the Billies to control the game against McKinley were rebounding, getting back defensively, not allowing McKinley to gain points in the paint, and handling their pressure. South had 12 team blocks in the first half, while out-rebounding McKinley by eight.
Varner, (16 points) who shared team-high scoring honors with Castronova, was a fierce rebounder throughout and played his best game in a Billies uniform in their biggest game of his tenure. Matt Foster was the other glass cleaner for the Billies, limiting second chance opportunities for the Macks, and scoring 11 points along the way. It prevented McKinley from getting out in transition and turned it into a half court game, which favored South. When the Macks were able to make their run to eventually tie the game at the start of the fourth quarter, Foster was resting up on the bench. Upon his return, South went on the decisive 10-0 run.
"We only rebounded offensively with two guys (Varner & Foster), so we had three guys getting back. and we talked about getting all the way back, because even if you're back, they're still going", Michael said.
Freshman point guard Greg Dolan scored eight points, while taking care of the ball and not allowing the vaunted McKinley pressure to be a factor. He never got rattled and continually made the right decisions with the ball.
"It came down to executing not just the game plan, but fundamentals", Michael said. "The big thing was how we handled pressure, because it didn't bother us at all".
Tolliver finished with 19 points for the Macks, while Shaquan Jones added 11 points.
North Tonawanda 46, Sweet Home 35
Just seconds into the game, Brandon Smiley flushed a lob for Sweet Home to get the party started. But after a quick 4-2 start for the Panthers, North Tonawanda settled in and finished the opening quarter on a 10-1 run to lead 12-5.
After a basket from Colby Moultrie to put the Jacks up 14-5 to start the second quarter, Sweet Home put the clamps on defensively and didn't allow another point from the Jacks for the rest of the half. Sweet Home won the quarter, 8-2, and trailed 14-13 at halftime.
After an even third quarter had the score 24-23 in favor of North Tonawanda, the Jacks began to pull away. Donovin Book and Ryan Gilbert each connected from downtown to start the final stanza, followed by a layup from Gilbert, to tale a 32-23 lead. With two minutes remaining, the Panthers got to within five points, but never any closer in a game where points came at a premium.
Chris Woodard led the Jacks with a game-high 12 points, while Book & Gilbert each finished with 10 points.
Jordan Evert and Asa'd Myles each scored 10 points for Sweet Home in the loss.
Williamsville South and North Tonawanda will play for the Class A1 Section VI title on Saturday, March 7th at 6:30 pm at Buffalo State.