Grand Island girls battle past Pioneer

By Eric Keppeler / Niagara Gazette

BUFFALO -- The third time was the charm for the Grand Island girls basketball team, which posted a 59-49 win over Pioneer on Wednesday in the Section VI Class A-1 Finals at the Flickinger Center of the Erie Community College city campus.

This was the third straight trip to the finals for the Vikings, but the first one that resulted in a sectional crown.

"It feels amazing," said 5-foot senior Ashton Duda, who led the Vikes with 17 points. "I remember being that team, crying. That's what we were last year, but now this is a different feeling. Now we get to see what the other side is like."

Grand Island (17-6) will meet A-2 champion Olean in the Class A crossover game at 2 p.m. Saturday, also at ECC.

"It feels awesome to be on the other side of things, and I'm thrilled for the girls," GI coach Jen Banker said. "At the beginning of the year, we had two goals. One was to win the league, and one was to win the section. They fell short in the league, but they never lost sight of the section. Right from the start of the playoffs, they've been determined."

Grand Island used a 21-10 fourth quarter to secure the win, closing the game on a 9-2 run.

Pioneer (21-2), the top seed in the A-1 bracket, had a big size advantage -- but so does everybody else who plays the Vikings.

Grand Island, seeded third, used a swarming defense and five 3-pointers to spur the upset. The Vikings also out-performed the Panthers at the free throw line, converting 20 of 26 chances (77 percent). Pioneer hit just 12 of 25 (48 percent).

"We didn't expect them to shoot the 3s like that," Pioneer coach Max Payne said. "The 3-ball killed us."