It was as comfortable an afternoon as you can have in the Section VI finals for the Amherst Tigers.
Much like its perfect 14-0 regular season in the ECIC III, the Tigers took control early and cruised to a 62-41 win over Iroquois in the Class A-2 championship on Saturday in front of an estimated crowd of 600 at Buffalo State.
Senior captain Johnathan Belton led the way with 19 points and seven steals for the Tigers, his quick hands guiding Amherst to its first A-1 title since 2005.
“Johnny’s a special player,” Kensy said. “He’s been up since his sophomore year and every year, every day, he’s improved. He’s one of the best defenders in all of Western New York.”
Kensy, who was in college when the Tigers last won a Section VI title, said his squad learned from last year’s A-2 finals loss to East Aurora.
“Having experience to come back here in the exact same type of situation really did help,” Kensy said. “Last year is the exact same with the locker room and being a No. 1 seed, but this year we had a little more experience.”
Top-seeded Amherst (20-1) dominated the second-seeded Chiefs (14-7) defensively, forcing turnovers and tough shots from an Iroquois offense that never found a rhythm. Amherst started strong, outscoring the Chiefs, 16-9, in a first quarter that saw more possessions end in turnovers than baskets for the Chiefs.
“We worked on handling the ball better, the difficulty is that they’re so quick with their hands low to the ground that we couldn’t even get by them like we practiced,” Iroquois head coach Sean Lauber said.
Senior captains led the way for Amherst. Dion Lewis netted 13 and forward Alex Turecki had nine for the Tigers, who move on to the Class A championship game at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at Buffalo State.
The Chiefs carried their offensive struggles into the second quarter, held off the board until leading scorer Nathan Wilkinson hit a floater to make it 22-11 with less than five minutes left in the frame. Amherst led by as much as 14 in the second, but Wilkinson hit a running three at the buzzer to cut it to 32-22 at the break.
Wilkinson, averaging 22 points a game for Iroquois, had just 11 points on Saturday. Junior Phil Bowen led the Chiefs with 17 points.
“Defense has always been our key,” Kensy said. ”As a team we hold teams below 50 points. That’s always our goal.”
Bowen had the first five points of the third quarter to cut the Amherst lead to five, but the Tigers kept Iroquois at arm’s-length throughout the second half. Iroquois’ lone lead came on a Wilkinson 3 just two minutes into the game, and they never threatened late.
“We wanted to stop Wilkinson and we wanted to play strong D,” Belton said. “Last year in the section final we really didn’t finish, but I think this year we finished as a team.”