By CHRIS BROOKS, wellsvillesports.com
DANSVILLE — It’s a David and Goliath story that has been written in a span of five years.
As separate programs from the 2016-17 to the 2019-20 season, both Andover and Whitesville have had similar experiences with playing the role of the ultimate underdog. The pathway towards Sectional glory had been blocked by not only one of Section V’s perennial powers, but as well as at the State level. For five years straight, the end result was the same — the Elba Lady Lancers were crowned as Class D2’s queens.
A remarkable feat like no other.
When the brackets for this season’s March to the Finals panned out, a potential meeting in the Semifinals would once again serve as a road block towards both ladies squads, this time in their first official season as one, cohesive unit. After starting their treks triumphantly back on Saturday, the stars would align ever so perfectly for perhaps Andover/Whitesville’s best chance to finally slay Class D2’s dragon.
That chance would come Tuesday night in Dansville.
The atmosphere, as you could imagine, was reminiscent of your true Sectional Final game. At times during Elba and Andover/Whitesville’s battle, galvanizing shockwaves reverberated from within the Corral after each team garnered a hot streak. At the same time, each team performed masterfully on the defensive front, keeping one another off the board for as long as they could. But through it all, one question needed answering.
Who wanted it more?
After a third quarter that saw the playing surface level out, the final eight minutes would determine it all. Those last eight minutes being some of the hardest fought, most defensive and thoroughly ecstatic basketball of the season. It was only appropriate for the game to reach its foreseeable conclusion in the last seconds of regulation.
Transversely through the fourth quarter, Elba and Andover/Whitesville went back-and-forth, quite picturesque and comparable to the famed John McEnroe/Bjorn Borg matchup at Wimbledon back in 1980 — one that featured a lengthy 18-16 tiebreak that ironically enough, saw Borg win his fifth straight Cup. But the next year however, McEnroe delivered sweet redemption to end the streak.
How does one of the all-time tennis rivalries tie in exactly? — Andover/Whitesville delivered a moment of the season with sweet redeeming quality with five ticks remaining, courtesy of a last-chance bucket by none other than Vanessa Hall.
The jubilant junior, under immense pressure from the third-seeded Elba defense all night long, whether it was a double-team, or at times a triple-team, she still managed to find her way to the basket every way she could. Her final basket came at the most clutch time, weaving her way around a pair of Lady Lancers defenders to use a left hook and ease the ball away, giving No. 2 Andover/Whitesville the final lead change they needed to officially exercise all of their Sectional demons in year’s past with a momentous and redeeming 45-43 win to advance onto Friday’s Class D2 Finals.
“This was tough. This was a really good overall team effort, and the girls played outstanding defense,” said Andover/Whitesville co-coach Aaron Rawady. “The energy and effort was there for the full 32 minutes, and when you have a player like Vanessa Hall, that certainly helps quite a lot as well. The girls wanted this bad, and we’ve worked hard all season to get to the Finals. It was a goal of ours to get there, and we knew that we’d have to go through some tough teams like Elba. Every year, they have one of the top teams around. We knew that, and even though they graduated a ton of girls from that five-peat, they were still going to be the cream of the crop. The girls were ready tonight.”
The win will go down as one of the most triumphant for Andover/Whitesville (18-3) in recent memory, ensuring that a new champion will be crowned in Class D2. For Rawady’s counterpart, Andover’s Jake Bannerman, it was his fourth go-around against the Lady Lancers, having previously lost to the eventual Champions back in 2016-17 in the Semifinal round, and again in the Finals in 2017-18 and 2019-20.
In reflection, Bannerman says to finally turn the curve is an unreal feeling.
“It means a ton. Elba is one of those teams and schools where you want to measure yourself up against them,” he said. “No matter what, and it doesn’t matter who they have out there on the floor, as soon as they put on that Lancers jersey, they are ready to battle. They know what to do, they know what it takes to win, they have a great culture of basketball. Finally, this group of girls to beat them? It’s unbelievable.”
As to how they got the job done? The first step was to start with a bang in the opening quarter. Andover/Whitesville wasted no time seizing the opportunity in the first portion of action, with Hall scoring eight of the game’s first nine points to put toward what was a 10-3 lead of the Lady Lancers. That lead would come down to as small as five at one point, but was branched back out to eight at the quarter’s end, with the No. 2 seeds leading by a 18-10 count after scoring five of the last seven.
The back and forth pace through a physical and defensive battle, would continue on into the second quarter when Andover/Whitesville managed to maintain their lead heading into the break, despite a pair of Elba baskets that cut their deficit to four in the beginning stages of the frame.
In the second half, a much closer affair.
An early changing of the guard took place right at the beginning of the third quarter, when the Lady Lancers overcame their first half deficit to record a massive run of Andover/Whitesville to jump into the driver’s seat for the first time in the game, netting 13 straight points with multiple Lady Lancers having a hand on the attack, including Sydney Reilly and Dakota Brinkman — Elba’s leading scorers in the contest, who combined to record nine of the team’s 15 points in the frame.
Rawady says that they expected a defiant response from Elba. One that they didn’t want to happen.
“The second half definitely started differently from the first, and it was something that we didn’t want to happen,” he said. “We wanted to go out and have a strong first three or four minutes of the third quarter to get back into it. But Elba had their run, and it just speaks to how strong of a team they are. They weren’t going to back down, no matter what the score at halftime was. We knew we were going to get a solid 16 minutes from them. But to have the amount of energy to stay right with them, it speaks to how badly our girls wanted to move on.”
But despite falling behind the eight-ball for the first time, Andover/Whitesville reacted quickly and urgently to make up the entire deficit, creating even playing ground to carry into the final eight minutes by scoring eight of the last 10 points led by Hall’s incredible presence with a basket down low and three shots at the stripe out of four to help the special teams cause.
If there was ever a time for Hall’s presence, the endgame was it.
After continuous trips to the charity stripe, Andover/Whitesville regained the edge over Elba from a three-pointer off the hand of Maria Riloba that provided perhaps a turning point for the No. 2 seeds for the remainder of the game.
At that point, it simply came down to who wanted that trip to the Finals more.
“It looked like the majority of the buckets in the fourth were going to be free throws. But credit to Charlie (Pangrazio), they made a great adjustment going to the box-and-1. We struggled with it, and then when it came down to crunch time, the x’s and o’s went out the window. It was a matter of who wanted it more at that point,” Bannerman said. “Who was willing to do what it took to make the extra pass, the extra shot. We missed some open looks, but having No. 3 on the floor certainly helps a lot. Not a lot of girls scored, but that’s a testament to our defense against a team that averages at least 50 a game. That’s huge.”
In the last 90 seconds of play and through all the pressure in the world brought on by Elba, Andover/Whitesville made sure they ensured a trip to the Finals behind the efforts of Hall, who scored massive baskets down low to jump ahead of the Lady Lancers three times, the latter of which being the penultimate after fighting off the compression with a huge left hook to the basket with five seconds remaining.
The game reached its end with one last attempt at a buzzer-beating shot by the Lady Lancers missed on the other side of the basket, as it officially put a seal on Andover/Whitesville’s trip to the Finals this weekend. It would also put a wrap on Hall’s extraordinary performance which saw her score a game-high 34 points.
“She wanted this game more than anyone,” Rawady said of Hall. “She wanted to have that crack again at the Finals, and she started out hot. Credit to them, Elba played some really strong defense on her all game, and she was gassed by the end. Fortunately, she powered through the end to give us some really big baskets to get the win.”
Helping the cause on offense was Rachel Jackson and Maria Riloba, each finishing with five points.
Andover/Whitesville has now earned the right to square off for the Class D2 Title on Friday at Letchworth, as they take on No. 4 Avoca/Prattsburgh for all the marbles.
”It’ll probably be a low-scoring game but regardless of who we play, it’s a Championship game. It’s going to be tough. You don’t make it this far if you’re not a strong team. Jeff (Gilbert) continues to have strong teams year after year make it all the way through Sectionals at Avoca/Prattsburgh. We have to prepared, because if we thought this battle was tough, Friday will be even tougher.”
The Class D1 Final between No. 2 Notre Dame-Batavia and No. 1 Fillmore will follow after, in an 8 p.m. tip-off.
Elba 10 9 15 9 – 43
Andover/Whitesville 18 8 8 11 – 45
ELBA: Sydney Reilly 5 2-2 13, Adrianna Long 3 3-4 9, Kennedy Augello 1 0-0 2, Laci Sewar 3 1-4 7, Dakota Brinkman 4 2-4 12. Totals: 16 7-13 43.
ANDOVER/WHITESVILLE: Vanessa Hall 12 9-10 34, Serena Ainsworth 0 1-2 1, Rachel Jackson 2 0-0 5, Maria Riloba 2 0-2 5. Totals: 16 10-14 45.
3-point goals: Elba 3 (Brinkman 2, Reilly), A/W 3 (Hall, Jackson, Riloba).
Total Fouls: Elba 14, A/W 11. Fouled out: None.
Chris Brooks’ photo gallery:
Class D1 Semifinals
No. 2 Wheatland-Chili 75, No. 3 Fillmore 52
WARSAW — The road towards a possible rematch with New York State’s best team in Avoca/Prattsburgh in the Finals was one more stepping stone away for the No. 3 Eagles of Fillmore. All that was left in the way, was No. 2 Wheatland-Chili — perhaps their largest task at hand.
The Eagles knew they were going to have their hands full against a Wildcats team that can provide devastating damage from all over the floor. Through the first half, they gave a fierce battle that allowed them to stay step for step right alongside the two-seeds.
But when the second half came around, a different story.
Wheatland-Chili made the most of the opportunity that was presented before them, as they extended their 41-35 halftime lead of Fillmore insurmountably with multiple Wildcats getting involved in a 22-10 third quarter run that branched out the lead for good, as they went on to eliminate the Eagles with a 75-52 victory in Warsaw to punch their ticket to the Class D1 Finals.
“We got off to a bit of a shaky start and missed some lay-ups and defensive assignments,” said Eagles coach Randy Crouch. “Once we settled in, we did a great job of going shot-for-shot with them. Unfortunately, we could never quite get our noses in front. The second half, they made a quick run and we just never responded to it. Aaron Lund is a heck of an athlete, and he really smothered us defensively. He also created offense, and balanced the scoring with finding shooters. Once they got on a roll, we struggled to defend the perimeter. It felt like they couldn’t miss.”
Wheatland-Chili’s offense was fueled by a balanced three-point game that simply could not denied, as they scored 11 three-pointers in all, seven coming in the first half alone.
The Wildcats defense in turn also held Fillmore (16-5) up in the first eight minutes of play, allowing just four shots from the field in the midst of their 18-13 advantage they would carry over into what was a back-and-forth second quarter, with Luke Colombo and Zach Sisson responding to their opposition’s three-point game with four combined triples of their own.
The gap between the two foes was just six at the break.
But in the third quarter, the balance of power began to shift towards Wheatland-Chili’s favor for the remainder of the evening, as the defense took over, powering up a solid stand of offense along the way with a 22-10 run of the Eagles to pull away towards victory.
Despite the loss, Fillmore saw three scorers eclipse double figures to pace the offense, with Carter Sisson leading the way with a team-high 13 points, nine of them coming in the first half of play. Zach Sisson finished with 11 points, 10 of them also coming in the opening eight minutes, while Will Roeske had 10 points.
A tremendous season for the Eagles is now history, as they complete their 2021-22 campaign with a record of 16-5 overall, and an undefeated season in Allegany County League play which earned them this year’s Division I Championship.
This June, the team will graduate five Seniors in all including Roeske and Carter Sisson, as well as Johnny Mills, Larry Walinski and Caleb Wagner.
Crouch commended his Seniors for their efforts all through the season, and their careers.
“I’m really proud of the guys and the season we had, 16-5, when considering who we lost to, being undefeated County champs, and playing the way we were at the end of the season,” he said. “Losing stings, but I am immensely proud of what we achieved. I want to give special thanks to my Seniors, Carter, Will, Johnny, Larry and Caleb. They have represented Fillmore very well during their careers.”
Fillmore 13 22 10 7 – 52
Wheatland-Chili 18 23 22 12 – 75
FILLMORE: Carter Sisson 6 0-0 13, Luke Colombo 3 1-1 9, Mitch Ward 2 3-4 7, Zach Sisson 4 1-2 11, Johnny Mills 1 0-0 2, Will Roeske 4 0-0 10. Totals: 20 5-7 52.
WHEATLAND-CHILI: Terrance Bayly-Henshaw 6 0-0 13, Taevon Wormley 0 0-1 0, Jaden Schwenebraten 1 0-0 3, Josh Juneau 2 0-0 6, Demetrius Singletary 1 0-0 2, Aaron Lund 7 7-9 22, Leighton Williams 6 0-0 14, Brendan Moore 2 2-2 8, Jahmere Copper 2 1-2 7. Totals: 27 10-14 75.
3-point goals: Fillmore 7 (Colombo 2, Z. Sisson 2, Roeske 2, C. Sisson), W-C 11 (Juneau 2, Williams 2, Moore 2, Copper 2, Bayly-Henshaw, Schwenebraten, Lund).
Total Fouls: Fillmore 15, W-C 11. Fouled out: None.