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  • Writer's picturetgardner1167

Hamburg stifles Sweet Home, cruises to third straight Class A1 title

While “defense wins championships” is a well-known sports cliché, it sure fit the description of what the Hamburg Bulldogs pulled off on Sunday night.

Hamburg stifled the Sweet Home offense, holding the Panthers to just 12 first half points en route to a 63-32 victory to claim their third-straight Section VI Class A1 championship at the Buffalo State Sports Arena.

“It was an awesome, all-around team win,” Hamburg coach Amy Steger said. “I thought our girls just kept going at them, going at them, going at them, and they just can’t really unbury themselves from that.”

The Bulldogs (19-4) jumped out to a quick 8-0 lead to begin the game, sparked by a Maddie Hoak 3-pointer. The Panthers (20-3) answered with a 6-0 run of their own to cut their deficit down to two points, but that was as close as they would come the rest of the game. Hamburg tallied the final five points of the quarter to lead 15-6 after the first.

“We started off the game hot,” Steger said. “With our guards hitting those threes, they don’t normally look to shoot that right away so that was huge. So as soon as that hit, we were just rolling after that.”

The second quarter was nothing short of Bulldog domination.

Hamburg embarked on a 17-3 run spanning the majority of the frame, holding the Panthers scoreless for a near five-minute span. Buckets from Clara Strack and Madelyn Harrison kicked off the run in the quarter’s opening minutes, and 14 of the run’s 17 would come from the two of them. At halftime, the Bulldogs were ahead 32-12.

“I honestly think it was the best game of our season so far,” said Strack, who led all scorers with 23 points and was named the game’s MVP. “We’ve worked all year on defense, we do a defense half of every practice…we work hard on defense and I think we did good with it tonight.”

Behind Strack, Harrison tallied 15 points on the night.

While the Bulldogs’ man-to-man defense was suffocating, their offensive execution shined all night, particularly in the second and third quarters. Hamburg’s ability to drive opened up all kinds of passes – a majority of the time for easy layups. Combining that with their efficiency in transition, resulted in an excellent two-way game.

In particular, attacking the paint and utilizing the size of Strack and Harrison turned out to work like a charm.

“Every game, we do best when Harrison and Strack get touches,” Steger said. “We have very good guards, but nobody has answers for Harrison and Strack.”

The Panthers’ offense was much more active in the second half, particularly Amber Murak, who knocked down three 3-pointers and tallied 11 of her team-high 15 points in the third quarter.

Unfortunately for Sweet Home, who were without their second leading scorer Lauren Hubert, the Bulldogs almost always had an answer. They stayed ahead 47-29 entering the fourth quarter, which was just as dominant. Hamburg’s largest lead, 31 points, was the game’s final score.

The Bulldogs advance to face a familiar foe in Williamsville South in the Class A crossover game on March 9 at Buffalo State College, with the winner earning the right to play in the Far West Regionals.

When asked about what she’s looking forward to about the matchup, Harrison had one thought.

“Beating them,” she said. “It’s been so many years, we’ve lost to them every time, so there’s a lot of determination going into that game.”

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