Weekly Feature

2018-03-08 / Sports

West boys hoops secures A-1 championship

Indians aiming for overall A title following 4OT thriller with South
Sports Reporter

For the first time since the 1999-2000 season, West Seneca West’s boys basketball team earned the right to call itself sectional champion when it defeated Williamsville South Saturday night at Buffalo State College.

The Billies did everything they could to be the one to hand the Indians their first loss of the year, but in the end not even four overtime sessions would prove to be enough, as West held on to pull out the 97-95 victory that bumped their record to 23-0 this winter.

Going into this season, West had won just 20 games combined over the course of the last four campaigns.

“As a coach, you don’t necessarily want a nail-biter like this; it would’ve been nice to get out of there with a 5- to 10-point, nice, little, tidy victory instead of one where you’re nervous with every last-second shot or every last-second rebound,” first-year West head coach Des Randall said. “But, out of everything I’ve ever been a part of as a player and a coach, I can definitely say this is probably my greatest accomplishment and the most special achievement out of everything out there. From a fan-of-the-sport standpoint, the game was everything you could ask for from both teams that everybody was hoping to see in this particular game. It was one of those games where you hate to see either team lose, and in the end we were fortunate to have come out on top.”

Randall’s half-brother and team sparkplug Juston Johnson had a big say in West coming out on top. The game’s high scorer netted nearly half of his 38 points Adrian Baugh elevates for a fast-break layup as North Tonawanda’s Sean Ferry tries in vain to slow him down during West Seneca West’s 82-62 victory in a Section VI Class A-1 semifinal played at Buffalo State College on Feb. 28. Photo by Jake French Adrian Baugh elevates for a fast-break layup as North Tonawanda’s Sean Ferry tries in vain to slow him down during West Seneca West’s 82-62 victory in a Section VI Class A-1 semifinal played at Buffalo State College on Feb. 28. Photo by Jake French for the game from the free-throw line – including several critical ones late in the fourth overtime – with his 20-of-28 performance. Johnson, who also grabbed 10 rebounds and dished out five assists, scored five straight points in an eight-second span around the one-minute mark of the fourth extra session to turn South’s 94-91 lead into a 96-94 advantage for West.

“Kids from both teams literally gave it everything they had,” Randall said. “Both the highly regarded players put on the best show they could, and both the supporting casts did as well. South’s kids played tremendous and my kids did, too. And with the game going as long as it did, the value of being able to plug the next guy in and not have a drop off is huge. With Adrian [Baugh] fouling out and Jesse Broad having to come in and play a lot of his minutes, and [Anthony] Espe coming in for Nate [Ryniec] when he was in foul trouble, that really spoke to our depth. They came in and kept us in position to win the game.”

Just being able to send the game to the first extra session was a bit of a challenge for West, which began the fourth quarter facing its biggest deficit to start that frame this season. South’s 64-56 advantage slowly but surely began to dwindle, however, until West was able to knot the score at 75-75 at the end of regulation. Both teams scored just four points each in both the first and third overtimes to leave the score knotted at 79-79 and 90-90 at the end of each respective stoppage, before West found a way to persevere in the fourth extra session.

“That was a little bit of unfamiliar territory for us, to be trailing that much that late in the game, but in the huddle before the fourth quarter, I just reminded the guys that we’d been there before, we’d been down before and we’ve proven that we can fight back and still win these types of games,” Randall said. “We stayed true to our character; we didn’t panic, we didn’t worry and we didn’t doubt our plan for the game. We stuck to the script, believed in ourselves and played basketball.”

West, which trailed 43-40 at the half after battling South to a 22-22 stalemate in the first quarter, also got 22 points – including 15 off three-point baskets – from Alex Wayland (four steals, two rebounds) and 14 points – all but two of which were off threes – from Ryniec (three rebounds, two assists). Mike Borton (12 rebounds, three steals) also scored 14 points for the victors, while Baugh finished with nine points, four rebounds and three assists.

South, which was just 13-of-21 from the free-throw line and hit just six threes as a team for the game, was paced by Greg Dolan, who surpassed the 2,000-point mark for his career before fouling out in the fourth overtime.

“When you’ve got the top shooter taking those last-second shots like was the case Saturday night, I think every person on the team that’s defending the shot takes a deep breath because you’re convinced it’s going to drop,” Randall said. “Two times their shooter took shots that looked right on when they left his hands, but each time when it didn’t fall, it just felt like it was meant for us to win the game.”

West earned its spot in the A-1 title game after taking down defending overall Class A champion North Tonawanda in the semifinal round, 82-62, on Feb. 28. The Indians entered the contest expecting the Lumberjacks’ best shot, and that’s just what they got from the defending champs early on. Once West found its footing, however, there wasn’t much North Tonawanda could do, as the Indians turned the Lumberjacks’ 14-12 lead to start the second quarter into a 34-20 deficit at the half.

A similar 27-13 run by West over the course of the third quarter bumped the Indians’ advantage up to 61-33 heading into the final stanza.

“We just made a couple of defensive adjustments in our press, and were able to stick to our theme of wearing them down with our pressure,” Randall said. “After we made those adjustments and as we started to wear on them, we were able to get turnovers that we could turn into points. That’s where the turn started to happen, when our press started to catch up to them. Once we started to [get] some steals, we really fed off of that; once our press starts clicking, we really start rolling with easy layups or even free-throw chances.

“I think the North Tonawanda game told us that everybody’s going to come out ready to give us their best shot, and that everyone in the playoffs is there for a reason – and those are lessons we need to remember as long as we are able to keep playing,” Randall continued. “They had a great game plan to start – they kind of made us wonder if we belonged there at the beginning – but we responded to that challenge and proved pretty quick that we do in fact belong. No one’s going to lay down for you, though, and that means we have to come ready to play.”

Wayland led the way for West with 24 points, five rebounds, four assists and four steals. Johnson chipped in with 23 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, while Baugh chipped in with 21 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and three steals.

Ryniec contributed nine points, two rebounds and two assists for West, which took on South Park Tuesday for the overall Class A title in a game that ended too late for this edition.

Whichever team emerged victorious from the overall A final will return to Buffalo State one final time Saturday to play the Section V representative — Irondequoit faced Wayne Wednesday night to determine that section’s overall Class A champ — in this year’s Far West Regional.

“One of our things this year was to win until we can’t win anymore, and now it’s an obsession for us to win; no one wants that one blemish on our record,” Randall said. “We wanted to win the A-1 title, and after that we wanted to win the overall A title. This group isn’t going to be satisfied unless we can cross every one of our goals off the list. South Park isn’t going to make it easy, though, and I think there’s extra motivation on both sides because we knocked them out of the sectional hunt in the football final too. There’s a lot of kids who play both sports on both teams, but I think once we get our confidence going, we should be able to do what we’re capable of doing.”

email: jnadolinski@beenews.com

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