Sterling Taplin was the last one out of the Williamsville North locker room Monday night. The Class AA semifinal game was as close as he’d gotten to a championship in his five years on the varsity and the dream had just crashed again.
Taplin is one of the most prolific scorers in Western New York history, but Monday night at Buffalo State, Clarence’s Ryan Funk was the best player in the gym. Funk scored a game-high 20 points to lead the No. 3 seed Red Devils past No. 2 Williamsville North, 49-39.
“The only thing that’s going through my mind is what we could’ve done,” an emotional Taplin said. “It just really wasn’t our best game. That’s not how we wanted to end.”
Clarence will meet No. 1 Jamestown in the championship game on Saturday after the Red Raiders finished off No. 5 Lockport, 69-58. Jamestown has won three of the last four Class AA titles.
Clarence and Williamsville North were tied, 12-12, after the first quarter, but the Red Devils opened the second quarter on an 11-0 run that put them ahead for good. Taplin finished with 18 points under the tight watch of Bryan Jost but his Spartans never led in the game.
“You have to stop him,” Clarence coach Todd Banaszak said of Taplin. “We put a lot of different [defenses] in. The biggest thing was telling the kids to do what we want to do, not to do what they want to do. Play team defense. Everything we practiced, we did.”
“We knew the kid was going to try to take over, and you have to watch him. I thought Bryan did a really good job on him man-to-man, really good. We kept changing Sterling’s direction.”
The Spartans didn’t make a field goal in the second half until there was 5:30 left in the game but stayed alive with free throws.
Funk missed two dunks in the first half but threw down a two-handed slam off a fast break in the third quarter that put Clarence up by 12 and seemed to solidify the fact that is wasn’t North’s day.
“There’s nothing you can really say, nothing we could have really did,” Taplin said of stopping Funk. “We played our best on him but he was better.”
Kyle Stevens put the victory on ice in the fourth quarter with seven straight Clarence points, including a three-pointer to put the Red Devils up, 45-35, after Taplin had gotten the Spartans within striking distance.
Lockport took a 33-32 lead into halftime in its semifinal game but Jamestown had all the momentum after Quinn Lee Yaw threw the ball from his own free-throw line just before the buzzer rang and made an incredible long-distance shot.
“It felt like we couldn’t be stopped after that,” Lee Yaw said.
Lockport led, 50-47, after three quarters but Jamestown left no doubt in the end, outscoring Lockport, 22-8, in the fourth quarter to advance.
Zack Panebianco led Jamestown with 26 points and Lee Yaw added 21. Colin Dougherty had 26 for Lockport.
Brian Brown and Tarron Scott had 21 points each as No. 2 seed Middle Early College beat Allegany-Limestone, 72-48, in the Class C-1 semifnals played at Jamestown CC. Brown added 12 rebounds and 10 assists for the Kats (15-5), who will play Silver Creek on Friday at 8:45 p.m. back at Jamestown CC.
MEC held the Gators to eight points in the second quarter.
“We played great defense and had more of a sense of urgency than we did at the start of the game,” said coach Randy Rich.
The Middle Early College and Silver Creek game is a rematch from last year’s Class C finals.