Championship week is here, and it starts with what could be the best semifinal day of the week at Buffalo State.
Three games, starting with CCAA I power and year-long top 10 resident Allegany-Limestone taking on ECIC IV upstart Cleveland HIll at 5:30 p.m. in a B-2 semifinal.
That's followed by the highly anticipated B-1 semifinals, a final four of top 10 small schools. At 7 p.m., three-time overall Class B champion and No. 1 small school Olean takes on a dangerous Grover Cleveland team that struggled late in the regular season but the Presidents got Ricky Alejandro back for the quarterfinals and he had eight(!) threes in a very nice win at Medina. The final game of the day is a terrific matchup as ECIC III runner-up Depew takes on ECIC IV champion Lackawanna in an 8:30 scheduled start.
I've seen 12 games in the last seven days, will see 17 in the next six. It's the best week of the year in Western New York high school sports, and it should get off to a great start.
5:22 p.m. We're courtside and ready for our first game. NOTE to ALL FANS to get here EARLY this week. Buffalo State's main large parking lot is now a construction site, so parking spots are at a premium.
5:28 p.m. Also a reminder to fans that Section VI likes starting games ahead of time. Teams have been announced and the tipoff is next.
I'm going with Allegany-Limestone big. They've been here before and have a lot of players back from last year, which is why they have have been ranked all year -- just destroying teams not named Olean, Jamestown and Bradford (Pa.). Cleveland Hill has had a great season but I'm not sure they'll be able to keep up.
5:41 p.m. At the end of the first quarter, Allegany-Limestone leads Cleveland Hill, 14-10. A-L is getting some good shots while Cleve Hill is taking some bad ones.
5:50 p.m. With 2:45 left in the second quarter, Cleve Hill calls a timeout having cut the lead to 24-22. Golden Eagles have stepped up the energy on defense.
5:52 p.m. A-L calls the timeout this time with 1:25 left in the second. Omar Ramadan hit a deep three from the right side just moments ago to give Cleve Hill a 25-24 lead, its first of the game.
5:55 p.m. A-L gets a timeout on a scramble with 5.6 seconds left and the score tied at 26-26.
5:57 p.m. Nice finish of the quarter for Cleve Hill as Darryl Spencer blocks an A-L shot before the buzzer. At halftime we are tied at 26-26.
Nice job by Cleve Hill. Spencer has had a lot of energy on both ends. I thought A-L would be able to execute a little better on offense and perhaps be able to put away Cleve Hill early, but the Golden Eagles can only get more confident as the game goes on. Should be an interesting second half.
6:15 p.m. With 2:17 left in the third quarter, Allegany-Limestone calls a timeout. Cleve Hill is up, 37-34.
6:19 p.m. At the end of the third quarter, Cleveland Hill has a 42-34 lead. A great tip in by Spencer and a late three by No. 10 (sorry, no rosters!) helped the Eagles to a 9-2 quarter-ending run.
6:22 p.m. Good timeout by Cleve Hill coach Jason Pryzbysz with 7:00 left and A-L having cut the lead to 42-38 on two consecutive strong drives by Marcus Aiello and Nate Keenan.
6:30 p.m. Some great action from Cleve Hill earned it a 12-point lead at 50-38, but A-L just got a three from Aiello to make it 50-42. Timeout, A-L with 3:28 left in the game.
6:33 p.m. A-L is turning up the defensive pressure and Cleve Hill calls a timeout while being trapped. Eagles lead, 50-43, with 3:08 left.
6:42 p.m. A-L with a timeout after a made basket; Cleve Hill leads, 55-50, with 57.6 seconds left.
6:47 p.m. Cleve Hill holding on in crunch time, just barely. One free throw by Aaron Sanders gives it a 57-52 lead with 22.2 seconds left -- timeout, Cleve Hill.
Huge win for the Golden Eagles, and they deserved it. Very well-played game, composed and under control in a big-time contest.
7:09 p.m. Back on press row just in time for the tipoff of Grover-Olean, a tremendous matchup for game No. 2 of championship week.
7:18 p.m. Grover Cleveland coach Earl Schunk calls a timeout trailing Olean, 9-7, with 2:36 left in the second quarter. Great underhand assist through traffic by Chris Holland on Grover's last basket.
7:23 p.m. At the end of the first quarter, Olean leads Grover, 13-11. Ryan Carney has eight points for Olean, six on putbacks.
7:31 p.m. Olean calls a timeout falling out of bounds with 2:45 left in the second quarter and owning a 26-20 lead. "The guy in the third row had more possession than he did," says Grover coach Earl Schunk, one of many wisecracks I'm sure to hear since I'm on the Grover side of press row.
7:37 p.m. We are at halftime and Olean leads Grover, 31-25. Grover has hit three threes to stay into it while Olean is all over the offensive boards.
7:56 p.m. Olean leads, 41-32, with 3:43 left in the third and has called a timeout as a player was trapped. Nice start here for the Huskies.
8 p.m. Grover with a timeout after a fast-break basket cuts the Olean lead to 44-37 with 1:53 left in the third.
8:04 p.m. At the end of the third quarter, Olean leads Grover, 49-42. The last basket was when Ricky Alejandro hit a three for Grover in the final minute.
8:09 p.m. Olean just keeps executing. Nice passing leads to an Alex Moore basket down low and the Huskies lead, 56-45, with 5:26 left in the game and Grover calls a timeout.
8:16 p.m. Olean still just keeps executing. Olean calls a timeout after a Grover timeout just a moment ago; Olean leads, 64-53, with 2:49 left in the game.
8:18 p.m. Grover gets a three from Alejandro to cut it to 64-56 and calls a timeout with 2:21 to go.
8:22 p.m. Grover is fouling but we're inside a minute and Olean has a 68-58 lead. Very business-like victory for Olean.
8:25 p.m. We have a FINAL SCORE: Olean 70, Grover Cleveland 58. Time for quick interviews.
8:50 p.m. Our third game of the night has tipped off. Not a lot of time for updates in this one because I'll be doing a lot of writing.
9 p.m. At the end of the first quarter, Lackawanna has a 10-4 lead on Depew. Dondre Alexander hit a one-handed baseball heave from three-quarter court at the buzzer. An amazing shot.
And I'm furious because I didn't have the iPhone going. Freaking triple headers and freaking 10 p.m. deadline. ARHGRGRHGRHRGHGRHGR!!!!!!!!
9:41 p.m. At the end of the third quarter, Depew leads Lackawanna, 31-30. My bad -- at the half it was 17-14 Lackawanna.
10:04 p.m. Our story is in for first edition. It doesn't include this game, which is tied at 45-45 with 47.8 seconds left. Lackawanna is inbounding after Rick Coburn of Depew went 2-for-2 at the line to answer a 2-for-2 trip by Lackawanna's Damoni Hall with 1:01 left.
10:11 p.m. We have had three timeouts in a row -- why? Because there are 2.8 seconds left and Depew is up, 47-45, thanks to a Jaden Cotton inside basket.
The Steelers rushed upcourt but couldn't get off a decent shot.
11:49 p.m. Finished writing my story for the final edition. I'll have some video highlights and interviews up here at some point. I'm still steamed that I whiffed on Alexander's miracle shot. Bless my heart I must be the sickest man alive.
Some other slightly more coherent thoughts ...
* Yes, snarky, smarmy commentator on here, I definitely picked Allegany-Limestone, definitely have been voting for them in the top 10 and definitely haven't voted for Cleve Hill. But who cares? Cleve Hill was tremendous. I thought they would be a fish out of water on the big Buffalo State court in their first sectional semifinal trip in more than 20 years, and they played wonderfully. They were cool under pressure as they built a 12-point lead, made a lot of smart decisions and worked their butts off on defense. Sure, the finish wasn't so pretty -- both teams missed a ton of free throws -- but the Golden Eagles made a ton of plays to beat a veteran, seasoned postseason team.
Just for the record, my other two picks were in line with my poll ballot - Olean and Depew.
* Olean is at another level than other Class B teams. They are always so well coached it is ridiculous, and their crew is an athletic, veteran, smart one that seems to make all the right moves. Great plays from coach Jeff Anastasia out of timeouts, great recognition of situations by point guard Joe Palumbo as well as forwards Ryan Carney and Alex Moore. The latter two were all but unstoppable on the inside.
* Depew survived a super-tense battle. Cotton was tremendous inside and was an anchor for a Wildcat team that didn't get its offense flowing for a while. Lackawanna definitely had something to do with that -- they've held Orchard Park, Alden and Depew to low-scoring games in the last few weeks.
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