Thanks to some game-changing third quarters, East and Amherst both will make a return trip to Buffalo State for Section VI championship games on Saturday. It was a fantastic fourth that did the same for Iroquois.
Third-seeded East High moved on to the Class B-2 final with a 50-45 semifinal victory Tuesday night over second-seeded Cleveland Hill, thanks to an 11-6 third quarter that turned around the game.
In the Class A-2 semifinals, Amherst used a tremendous 26-10 third quarter to turn a one-point game at halftime into a 68-52 rout over South Park, while Iroquois closed out a 58-48 win over Lew-Port with a 19-12 final quarter. An estimated 1,500 were on hand for the tripleheader.
Amherst (19-1) and Iroquois (14-6) will play for the A-2 championship at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Buffalo State.
East (14-6) will play Fredonia (16-4) will for the Class B-2 championship at noon Saturday at Buffalo State.
The Panthers earned the trip thanks to 20 points from 6-foot-9 senior Tyree Tyson and a switch in defense that stymied Cleveland Hill throughout the second half.
The Golden Eagles had jumped to a 10-0 lead to start the game before East came back to make it a 12-12 game by the end of the first quarter. Cleve Hill also had a 25-24 lead at halftime before East turned it around in the third. East took a 35-31 lead to the fourth and extended it to as many as eight before holding on. Cleve Hill was never able to make it a one-possession game.
“The biggest thing was that we made an adjustment at halftime – we were in a 2-3 and we shifted to a 3-2 to cover the wings and sag somebody in the middle,” said East coach Starling Bryant.
The change limited Cleveland Hill to two three-pointers in the second half after hitting four in the first.
East’s backcourt was a significant factor, with junior Johnathon Lewis scoring 11 points and sophomore Percy Bryant scoring 10.
Tyson was a force at both ends, finishing off strong post moves over shorter defenders and blocking or altering shots on defense.
“The game plan all week, and basically all season – but it took us a while to get to the point – that this is our bread and butter,” coach Bryant said of Tyson and 6-5 senior Jonathan Kinley. “Sometimes I have quick guards, but at this time of the year, playoff basketball, when it’s halfcourt, a 6-9 kid is a 6-9 kid. He’s finishing, rebounding, blocking shots. The kid played big-time today, so we’re going to ride him as far as we can go.”
Sophomore Jermaine Hairston had 13 points while senior Richard Sotero had 11 for ECIC IV champion Cleveland Hill (17-3).
Amherst grabbed a hold of its semifinal with a fantastic start to the third quarter. The Tigers had just a 23-22 halftime lead but it began the third with a 20-3 run that all but decided things.
“The second half, we turned up the pressure a little bit, we took care of the little things such as boxing out, communication, running the floor, getting deflections and steals,” said Amherst coach Chris Kensy.
The Tigers played a box-and-one on South Park senior leading scorer Tyrell Mitchell, who displayed an excellent ability to get to the basket in the first half. Mitchell finished with 23 points.
“We just knew going into the second half, we had to put them away early,” said Amherst senior Johnathan Belton. “We played as a team and we played strong. [Mitchell] is a really good player, but we knew if we could take him away we could stop their team. We wanted to deny him, and it worked.”
As it has most of the season, the Tigers got balanced scoring from Belton, senior Steven Reynolds (17), senior Alex Turecki (17) and senior Dion Lewis (11).
“I think we’re almost ready – we haven’t peaked yet,” said Kensy. “Going into a sectional final, I’m hoping for a good showing and I expect a good showing from the senior group that we have. We have a lot of good pieces, all the way down from our seniors to our freshmen. I really like how we’re pulling together and playing like a family.”
Junior Zachary Kaczor had 17 points for South Park (11-9), which was making its first appearance at Buffalo State as it was its first sectional semifinal appearance in more than 20 years, according to coach Telly Forcucci.
A nice battle between Iroquois and Lew-Port had Iroquois take a 28-20 lead at halftime. The Chiefs, with junior Phil Bowen scoring 10 of his 18 points in the third, held a 39-36 lead heading to the fourth, where senior Nathan Wilkinson scored eight of his 24 in the fourth.
“It always seems like, when we decide to play defense and attack, everything else comes together, and that’s been our MO all year long,” said Iroquois coach Sean Lauber. “So, they decided after a couple butt-chewings that they would step it up and play harder, so we got quick steals and easy buckets.”
Iroquois, which finished third in ECIC II at 9-3, takes on an Amherst team that won ECIC III and has been ranked in The News top 10 large school poll all season.
“It’s going to be a very physical game for us,” said Lauber. “We’ve got to be ready to attack them hard and not back away because they’re Amherst and they’re 19-1. But I don’t think my guys will worry about that record. ... As always, it starts with our defense.”
Lew-Port (9-10) was led by senior Nick Mansour, who had 22 points.