By Doug Smith
Niagara Gazette — CLARENCE – McKinley threw up a few barriers but the road to the Section VI Class A basketball championship still goes through Grand Island.
Cassie Oursler poured in 34 points, 15 in a runaway fourth quarter, to lead the four-time defending champion Vikings past the once-beaten Buffalo city champs by a deceptively wide 65-42 margin in the A-1 semifinals Tuesday night.
Oursler also seized 13 rebounds and blocked five shots, at least by the Gazette’s count, but for the Vikings, the game’s most perilous stats were the two fouls she picked up in the first half and another in the third quarter. She played barely 22 of the game’s 32 minutes.
What held the Vikings in it, then, was the play of the shorter survivors – Megan O’Leary, Leoner Guardo, Grace Olszewski, Stephanie Knight, Lexi Kalinowski, Dakayla Winfield – when both Oursler and her “tower twin,” Kassie Bennett, went to the bench with the score tied three minutes before halftime.
Winfield whipped a pass to Knight for two, then hit a falling-away 10-footer. Kalinowski popped in a short jumper; even without its length, Island still had strength and a four-point lead at the break.
“It included everybody,” said GI coach Jen Banker. “We tried little things and they worked.”
Oursler returned as play resumed, then sat with a third foul. The Macks closed to 38-34 with 1:57 in the third when Guardo led a fast break, accepted what was ruled as a flagrant foul and dropped a free throw for a five-point margin.
After the Macks’ Shemecca Minor scored to start the fourth, Isle went on a 12-point run, boosted by Olszewski’s timely steal, and at 51-36, little was left to determine except the margin and when fouling time came, Olszewski, Winfield and Oursler took turn filling the nets.
“We seem to play better when we have our starters in the game,” Banker dead-panned.
Yogi Berra himself couldn’t have said it better.
And the Vikings will need to keep them there in Saturday’s noon A-1 final at Niagara County Community College.