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Published: February 28, 2008 11:18 pm  

GIRLS BASKETBALL: Grand Island gets extinguished by Flames

By Jay Skurski
Greater Niagara Newspapers

BUFFALO — The Grand Island Vikings proved they belonged in the Section VI Class A-1 title game Thursday night.

Unfortunately for the Vikings, they weren’t able to do enough to come away with that title. No. 3-seed Williamsville East opened a 24-15 lead at halftime and held on for a 41-38 win over the upset-minded Vikings at Erie Community College’s Flickinger Center.

“I can’t imagine what they’re feeling right now. I’m just excited for them because the hard work paid off this year,” Williamsville East coach Chris Durr said.

The Flames, who made their fourth consecutive appearance in the A-1 title game, won it for the second time in three seasons. Kenmore East, which was defeated by Grand Island in the semifinals Saturday, won in 2007.

It wasn’t easy for the Flames on Thursday, especially in the second half. No. 5-seed Grand Island (12-9 overall) cut the Williamsville East lead to just two points on three separate occasions, but couldn’t earn the tying basket.

“They came back. They kept fighting,” Grand Island coach Jenepher Banker said of her team, “but a couple times defensively we broke down and gave them an easy basket. Offensively, a couple of those shots just didn’t go down that we thought would.”

Williamsville East (17-6) got 11 points from senior Anna Stolzenburg, seven of which came after halftime.

“She’s been playing very well over the last couple weeks,” Durr said of his 5-foot-10 senior. “She grabbed some very important defensive rebounds and hit some free throws.”

Also finishing with 11 points for the Flames was junior Neha Bakhai. That included a big free throw with 28 seconds left to give her team a 40-36 lead. Bakhai then hit another free throw with 23 seconds to go, making it 41-36. On the ensuing possession, an attempted 3-pointer by Vikings eighth-grader Kallie Banker rimmed out with 15 seconds to go.

The Vikings pulled to within one possession at 41-38 with 6.3 seconds to play and then fouled. Williamsville East senior Bridget Steele missed a pair of free throws with 2.5 seconds to play that would have ended it, but Grand Island wasn’t able to advance the ball quick enough to get an attempted shot at tying it off.

“Williamsville East did a nice job of attacking our weaknesses, so I want to give them credit,” Banker said. “But I’m very proud of our kids. It was really our seniors who showed us back to ECC, now our younger kids have to take advantage of that in the future.”

Banker and Mallory Griffiths each had 12 points for Grand Island. Sophomore Kristen Wegrzyn added eight, all on free throws.

The Vikings graduate five seniors in Griffiths, Catie Hilliard, Molly Hayes, Jessica Oyer and Alex Peters.

Williamsville East advances to face the winner of the Pioneer-East Aurora Class A-2 title game for the overall A championship. That game will be played at noon Saturday, also at ECC.