Weekly Feature



2018-03-08 / Sports

Amherst ends Iroquois’ playoff run in A-2 final

Lady Chief cagers top rival EA in semifinals
by JASON NADOLINSKI
Reporter

Iroquois’ girls basketball team was plagued by self-inflicted turnovers, coach Steve Sokolski said, when it took on second-seeded Amherst in Sunday’s Section VI Class A-2 championship game at Buffalo State College, and the Lady Tigers were more than happy to take advantage and end the fourth-seeded Lady Chiefs’ season, 64-44.

The loss wasn’t from a lack of trying, Sokolski said, as the Lady Chiefs fought tooth and nail through the final buzzer. The turnovers that Iroquois committed, however, led to multiple extra possessions for the Lady Tigers – and, with their proficiency on the offensive glass, they also had quite a few possessions in which they put up anywhere between two and four shots before either scoring or Iroquois finally corralling a rebound.

“They did a lot of stuff that we knew they’d do, but in the end it honestly wasn’t Iroquois’ Sarah Wittek battles for control of a rebound with Amherst’s Emma Klein during the Lady Chiefs’ 64-44 loss in Sunday’s Section VI Class A-2 championship game at Buffalo State College. Photo by Kathleen Kramer Purchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com Iroquois’ Sarah Wittek battles for control of a rebound with Amherst’s Emma Klein during the Lady Chiefs’ 64-44 loss in Sunday’s Section VI Class A-2 championship game at Buffalo State College. Photo by Kathleen Kramer Purchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com our best effort,” said Sokolski, whose team saw Amherst’s 17-8 first-quarter lead move to 28-15 by halftime. “They had to have taken about 30 more shots than we did over the course of the game. They’re certainly a good team and they’ll probably be pretty good for a number of years based on what I saw.

“I don’t know if it was the big stage or what that caused it, but I do know that we battled right up until the very end, and that’s all you can ask for as a coach.”

Iroquois, which did cut the Lady Tigers’ advantage down to seven during the later stages of the third quarter, was ultimately outscored a combined 36-29 in the second half, including by an 18-10 margin in the final stanza.

Emily McLaughlin nailed four three-point baskets to account for most of her team-high 15 points on the day, while Taylor Quinn chipped in with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Sarah Wittek finished with seven points and 10 rebounds, while Logan Streety chipped in with six points.

Iroquois earned the right to play for a championship after taking down top-seeded crosstown rival East Aurora in the semifinal round, 44-43, in a game played Feb. 27 at Kenmore West High School.

The third time was the charm for Iroquois, which lost both regular-season meetings with the Lady Blue Devils, though East Aurora certainly did all it could to prevent the Lady Chiefs from moving on. Iroquois connected on just 25 percent of its shots – shooting the ball with success was one of Sokolski’s main concerns heading into the contest – but finished with 17 more shot attempts than East Aurora, which helped Iroquois ultimately persevere.

“The odds probably weren’t with us playing the same team for the third time, but as a coach that’s where you have to step up,” East Aurora coach Gary Schutrum said. “If that game didn’t show how equal we are as teams, nothing 
Iroquois’ Emily McLaughlin speeds along the baseline in front of East Aurora’s Emma Brinker during the Lady Chiefs’ 44-43 playoff win over their crosstown rivals. 
Photos by Kathleen Kramer Purchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com Iroquois’ Emily McLaughlin speeds along the baseline in front of East Aurora’s Emma Brinker during the Lady Chiefs’ 44-43 playoff win over their crosstown rivals. Photos by Kathleen Kramer Purchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com would. That’s where I needed to help the girls jump to the next level; beating someone three times when you’re so equal is really tough. And I’ve got to give Iroquois’ defense credit since they pressured us into bad shots. Their defense was very effective with the toll it took on our other players [other than Emma Brinker].”

Neither team had a clear hold on the lead at any point throughout the contest, though Iroquois did end each stanza ahead by a point or two. Bella Weir (5 points) gave East Aurora its first lead of the game with just under two minutes left in regulation, and the Lady Blue Devils were able to push that advantage to four points with 45 seconds to play. A three pointer by Meghan Porzio cut East Aurora’s advantage to one, however, and gave Iroquois’ full-court press the chance it needed to regain the ball and have a shot at victory.

Riley Reidel was the player who got the call for Iroquois after the Lady Chiefs’ press created a turnover, as her driving shot from seven feet out – following a time out by Sokolski after Iroquois advanced the ball to half court – put Iroquois up for good with 1.2 seconds left to play.

East Aurora did get one final shot at the win, but in the end it didn’t drop, leaving the Lady Chiefs able to move on to the final.

“That was the biggest win we had all year, and just a good game the whole way,” Sokolski said. “Honestly, we were lucky to pull that game out. Brinker is just a great player and very good, very sportsmanlike player and a nice young lady for sure, and we were fortunate to have stopped enough of her teammates because we couldn’t stop her no matter where she was on the floor. I don’t really feel like we upset them, though.”

“We didn’t play well enough to be in the game, but our girls just battled to the end – and that’s why it’s so sad that the season’s over,” Schutrum said. “We had a shot to win but it fell short. I just couldn’t be any prouder of the girls, but there’s still that disappointment that comes with that final loss of the year.

“Our goal at the beginning of the year was to be competitive in the playoffs, but we changed our goals as the year progressed and we got better,” Schutrum continued. “We far exceeded our preseason goals. Hopefully this will serve as a good lesson for the girls who are returning and a great lesson in general for life.”

Brinker scored a game-high 24 points for East Aurora to go along with her 16 rebounds, five blocks, two assists and two steals. Sarah Tully chipped in with four points, eight rebounds, two blocks and two steals for the Lady Blue Devils, who lose five seniors – including all of the players with height this season – off a squad that was a perfect 12-0 in divisional action and 18-4 overall this winter.

Brinker’s loss will be the most noticeable for East Aurora next season. Brinker, who has verbally committed to continue her career at Division II’s LeMoyne College, finished with school records for rebounds (1,300) and blocks (486) for a career, and had the second-most points (1,578) of any player to wear an East Aurora uniform. She also holds the school single season records for rebounds 
East Aurora’s Emma Brinker, middle, puts up a shot as Iroquois’ Riley Reidel, at left in the foreground, and Sarah Wittek, at right in the foreground, do their best to distract her during the Lady Chiefs’ 44-43 triumph in a Section VI Class A-2 semifinal played at Kenmore West High School on Feb. 27. East Aurora’s Emma Brinker, middle, puts up a shot as Iroquois’ Riley Reidel, at left in the foreground, and Sarah Wittek, at right in the foreground, do their best to distract her during the Lady Chiefs’ 44-43 triumph in a Section VI Class A-2 semifinal played at Kenmore West High School on Feb. 27. (341) and free-throw percentage (92.1 percent), as well as single-game records for rebounds (26) and blocks (13). Her 124 blocks in a season is the second most in school history, and her string of 25 consecutive made free throws also set a school record.

“It’s just a shame that Emma’s career is over, because it was a tremendous career,” Schutrum said. “She really had a solid game against Iroquois despite being the whole focus of their box-and-one defense the entire game. But, looking back, she and the rest of these girls are taking home a nice divisional title and we hit a bunch of our other goals this year too. And we saw some great development this year from our younger players, so hopefully we can build off of what we did this year even when we take the court with a much different looking team next year.”

Iroquois, meanwhile, saw Quinn (8 rebounds, 2 assists) and Porzio (2 assists) score 10 points each. Reidel chipped in with eight points, four steals and three blocks, while Wittek added six points, 10 rebounds and one block. The Lady Chiefs lose four players – three of whom were co-captains and two of whom were starters – to graduation off a squad that finished 19-4 overall this winter.

“This was just a great year and was a great job by the girls all season long,” Sokolski said. “We wanted to be playing for a title at the beginning of the year and we achieved that, which made all we did even more enjoyable. Hopefully we can pick up where we left off next year.”

email: jnadolinski@beenews.com

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