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Bulldogs head back to Buff State

It’s business as usual for Hamburg’s girls basketball team. The Bulldogs are headed back to Buffalo State to play for a Section VI championship – just like last year.

Hamburg hasn’t taken the direct route this time. The No. 6 seed in Class A1 pulled another “upset” on Wednesday night, beating No. 2 Grand Island by a score of 45-43.

“We’re all excited,” Brigid McKeone of the Bulldogs said about the chance to play for a banner.

If you needed one word to describe Hamburg’s performance on Clarence’s neutral court, it would be persistent. The Bulldogs kept plugging away throughout the game, finally taking the lead in the last stages and holding on for the win.

“That’s been unique to our season,” coach Kelly Owens said. “Our offense has been challenged throughout the season. We’ve tried to tell them to their get shots. Whether they fall or not is another story. But we try to keep fighting, keep up the pressure.”

McKeone led Hamburg with 14 points, while Shayne Fitzpatrick added seven. Lydia Sweeney of the Vikings led all scorers with 20 points.

The teams played the first half as if they had a school bus to catch after school. There weren’t many fouls and only a few traveling violations. The first 16 minutes took less than a half-hour to play.

At the start of the game, it looked as if the Vikings were going to have a relatively easy time of it. They jumped out to an 8-3 lead, with Claire Brandon sinking a couple of 15-footers. Hamburg got within two, and Grand Island answered.

And so went the rest of the half. The Bulldogs tied the game at 16-16 with three minutes left in the half, but Grand Island finished with a 7-2 run to go up by five at halftime.

“We put on our press on to try to change the tempo,” Owens said. “We love to get pressure, although the game turned into a little bit of a track meet at times. But if we can run, we’ll run.”

Still, it was more of the same in the third quarter. Hamburg put up 14 points in those eight minutes, but could only gain a point on the Vikings – and that disappeared on an early Grand Island basket in the fourth quarter.

There was still time for a Hamburg run, as soon the Bulldogs went on an 8-2 spurt. The last two points were scored by McKeone from the line to put her team ahead for the first time. She added two more with 1:33 left to put the Bulldogs ahead for good.

That’s not to say the game was over, though. Grand Island had the ball with 6.5 seconds left, trailing by 44-43. But the Vikings could not sink the winning shot, and the Bulldogs picked up a free throw in the last tenth of a second to account for the final second.

“We played 20 minutes, but you’ve got to play 32 minutes against a good team like Hamburg,” Grand Island coach Kristen Wegrzyn said.

“I’m still sweating,” Owens responded when asked if the last few minutes had been tough on her.

“We played a tough nonleague schedule. We wanted to get the kids accustomed to this. This is our goal. It’s especially exciting to play at Buffalo State. We’ve got five returnees who were there last year. They’ve talked this up.”

Williamsville South will be waiting at Buffalo State Sunday afternoon.

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