After both teams put forth very impressive championship victories on Saturday, Western New York basketball fans are getting what they wanted: an overall Class B final between Olean and East.
The two teams who have been the only ones to own the No. 1 spot in The News small school poll both put forth what have to be among their best performances of the season as they defended their sectional titles.
In the first game of Championship Saturday at Buffalo State, No. 2 small school East (18-3) methodically built a 20-point lead before holding on to beat No. 8 Cleveland Hill, 58-49, and earn its second straight Class B-2 championship.
Top-ranked small school Olean (18-3) followed with a clinical, 80-58 rout of a Fredonia team that was ranked in the small school top 10 all season, most recently rising to No. 6.
“We feel we’re at the peak of our season right now, and we’re at the peak of our game, honestly,” said Olean senior Wil Bathurst.
The teams will return to Buffalo State at 7 p.m. Tuesday to play for the overall Section VI Class B title and the right to advance into the state playoffs.
Last year, Olean beat East, 62-50, as it won its second straight overall B title.
“We’re happy we got here and happy we got another chance,” said East senior Tyree Tyson. “This time we’re going to try and make it worth it.”
East, which welcomed back the 6-foot-9 senior Tyson for his second game after a long layoff, was terrific in the first three quarters as Tyson was a force inside while the Panthers’ standout backcourt of senior guard Johnathon Lewis (nine points) and Percy Bryant (six) penetrated and helped open shots for teammates like junior Damone Brown and senior Aurelio Ayala, each of whom contributed 10.
“I was pleased by the ball movement and how we played,” said East coach Starling Bryant. “I’m very proud of these guys, for the way they played while Tyson was injured … with him in the game, it just gives us a different dimension. We relied too much on our guards when he was out. When Tyson is in the game, it gives us different matchups and gives the game a different feel.”
East was up, 34-20, at halftime, and it built a lead of 45-25 in the third quarter.
Cleveland Hill (15-5), behind 6-1 junior Jermaine Hairston (25 points), battled back to make it a 45-31 game after three quarters and an 11-0 run brought it within 45-42 after a three-pointer by junior Austin Barker.
However, East outscored Cleve Hill 13-7 the rest of the way, including a pair of patient possessions which ended with a Lewis drive and a Tyson three-point play after he was fouled on a putback of a missed Percy Bryant drive.
“The guys did a very good job of hanging in there and being tough went it counted most,” Bryant said.
Olean’s victory was a clinic from the start, with the 6-4 senior Bathurst (24 points) hitting a three and setting up teammates with two great passes in the opening moments of what would be a 20-9 first quarter.
Sam Eckstrom, a 6-7 senior center, had 27 points as he operated smoothly inside with hooks and post moves, or was found nicely by driving teammates. Senior point guard Luke Hennessy was outstanding in running the offense.
Fredonia (16-5) was led by senior Dylan Meyer’s 19 points and senior Nick Johnston’s 11.
“Dylan Meyer and John Piper are so great in transition, and we didn’t give up anything in transition in the first quarter,” said Olean coach Jeff Anastasia, whose team played an independent schedule this year. “I was really proud of the effort that the kids came out with.
“One of the reason we played this independent schedule is because of teams like East. They have two fantastic guards, they have good shooters, and getting Tyree back – he’s a force in the middle. They’re a very good team. We’re going to have to bring our A game against them.”