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Billies Make Early Statement And Return To Finals

On paper, Williamsville South seemed to be a huge favorite to get past upstart McKinley in the Class A-1 Section VI girls basketball semifinals. And it took the Billies all of two seconds to show why.

A quick play off the opening tip led to a quick Zaria McCullough layup and the Billies were off and running, using a huge first quarter to roll to an 82-42 win over the Macks in the second game of Wednesday’s doubleheader at Williamsville North High School.

“We started out really strong,” McCullough said. “We never looked back once we got that big lead. We don’t want to see any upsets this early in playoffs.”

The Billies led 9-0 and 24-2 before ending the first quarter up 30-4. The underdog Macks settled in and put up more of a fight in the final three quarters but never got closer than 21 points. Williamsville South used an aggressive defensive attack to produce several big runs and countless midcourt turnovers, which were usually turned into easy layups.

“We definitely like to push the ball up the floor and get those fast breaks,” Billies’ eighth-grade forward Amari DeBerry, who led everyone with 21 points. “Our spurts really help us take control of the game.”

Williamsville South (19-3) moved on to the sectional championship game at noon on Sunday at Buffalo State College against ECIC II rival Hamburg. The third-seeded Bulldogs posted a 41-34 win over No. 2 Grand Island in the other semifinal game.

“I hope we can win but we know they’re a good team,” DeBerry said. “We just have to stick to what we do, we’re going to play hard and do our best on defense and offense and see what happens.”

Naomi DeBerry added 16 points, Lauren Lassiter scored 15, McCullough scored 11 and Sarah Foster added eight for Williamsville South.

The Billies improved to 16-0 against Section VI opponents this season. Of those games, only the two-game sweep of rival Amherst produced victories of less than 10 points. The Tigers are still alive in the Class A-2 bracket so a potential Round 3 in the Class A crossover game is a distinct possibility. But Williamsville South isn’t focused on that – not yet anyway.

“We just worried about one game at a time,” McCullough said. “We just try to focus on one team first and then we’ll move on to the next.”

Salandra Debose led McKinley (10-11) with 18 points and Tatiana Cook added 11 for the Macks.

In the first game of the doubleheader, Hamburg used the strong defense it has relied upon all year long to earn the chance to play at Buff State. The Bulldogs took the lead with a first-half run and did not relinquish that lead after halftime – but Grand Island sure didn’t go quietly.

The Vikings trailed by as many as nine in the second half of the low-scoring affair but closed within one with 3:30 left in the game.

But again it was defense that delivered for Hamburg as senior Maggie Vesneske came up with two huge steals that led to three points that made it a two-score game and then Kelly DeGrood applied the dagger with a shot-clock buzzer-beater with 1:02 left that pushed the lead to seven.

“Our emphasis all year has been our defense,” Hamburg coach Kelly Owens said. “How hard we play defense, how well we play defense, that’ll create our offensive opportunities.”

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