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Francis leads Legends over upset-minded Red Devils in AA semis

Early in the fourth quarter Thursday night, Lancaster sophomore Madison Francis walked to the foul line after being knocked to the floor by an intentional foul. As Francis stood at the line, the Clarence student section serenaded her with a chant of “Overrated!”

Not a wise move. “Duck on the water,” she said later with a smile.

Francis hit both free throws and took over the game. She scored 14 of her game-high 35 points over a five-minute span, rallying top-seeded and heavily favored

Lancaster to a 59-51 victory over scrappy Clarence in the Section VI Girls Class AA semifinals at Sweet Home.

Lancaster (19-3) went 12-0 in ECIC I this winter, winning by an average margin of 30 points. That included wins over Clarence by 15 and 20 points. But playoff can bring out the best in an underdog, and the Red Devils threw a big scare into the defending champs, using a 15-2 run to take a 46-41 lead in the fourth.

But Francis, a 6-2 forward, showed why she’s considered a national top 15 player and certain major college recruit — as a mere 10th grader. She’s a team player and leader, but there are times when your best player has to take matters into her own hands.

After the overrated chants, Francis was a one-woman wrecking crew, scoring down low, hitting mid-range jumpers and tormenting Clarence defensively at the top of the Legends’ 3-2 zone. During one stretch, she scored three baskets in a 25-second span, giving Lancaster a lead they would never relinquish.

“I knew that I definitely had to take the game over, play more aggressive,” Francis said. ”I was getting in my head. But I got over it and lifted up my teammates, and overall we finished out well.” Lancaster, which lost to Bishop Kearney in the Far West Regional last season, goes for a second straight AA title at 7 p.m. Sunday at Buffalo State against No. 3 seed Jamestown, which advanced with a 51-43 win over Frontier in the nightcap at Sweet Home. Junior Ella Corry scored 20 points to lead Clarence (13-9), which led at halftime, 25-21.

The Legends responded with an 18-6 run to start the second half. But Clarence closed the third quarter with a 7-0 run of its own and seemed poised to pull a colossal upset against a Lancaster team that hasn’t been in many tight games lately.

“You got to be in close games,” said Legends coach Jayson Jaskier. “A knight in shining armor hasn’t had his mettle tested. So we needed our mettle tested every now and then. We did that in the regular season. We had some tough non-league games and hoped it would prepare us for something like this.

“We know in the playoffs you throw out everyone’s record. You knew you were going to get Clarence’s best shot. They’ve been practicing all week putting a game plan together. We knew we had to stand there and take a punch and counter-punch and it was going to be four quarters of basketball.”

Lancaster’s big counter-punch came after that flagrant foul against Francis. Overrated? She’s one of the finest girls basketball players this area has seen in the last 40 years. You might see this kid in the WNBA one day. Her coach knows he has a very rare talent on his hands.

“In the stat book, Mattie shines,” Jaskier said. “She shines in practice, too, by making her teammates better and helping them improve. Something that doesn’t always get noticed is on the bench is she’s our number one cheerleader.

“Absolutely, she’s an MVP on the floor, off the floor, in practice, all over the place.”

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