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High School Girls Basketball: It's Hamburg and Grand Island playing again for a title

Jill Ford helped lead Hamburg past Williamsville East and into a sectional final rematch with Grand Island on Saturday at NCCC. (Photo courtesy of Ron Larson)
Jill Ford wasn’t even on the Hamburg varsity team that played Grand Island last season for a sectional title, yet the junior point guard realizes the importance of the chance for redemption in this year’s Class A-1 championship game.

Top-seeded Hamburg advanced to play defending Section VI champion Grand Island with a 49-35 win over Williamsville East in a semifinal on Wednesday (Feb. 27) at Kenmore West. The No. 3 Vikings had rolled to a 65-42 win over McKinley in the semifinal game played before.

“The girls are very excited to be back and very excited for Saturday,” said Ford, who’s part of a large contingent of players who came up from the junior varsity and have been able to make an immediate impact this season for a team that returned only one starter.

“We can’t wait to try to get revenge and get back at them,” she added. “I came up with a lot of the juniors and we all work well together and only had to get used to four seniors. We’ve been able to do that and got to know each other very well.”

With only four seniors and at times, three sophomores up on varsity, Hamburg wasn’t exactly a team most would have prognosticated to be back in this situation, but thanks to a number of contributors stepping up and players’ work ethics that are second to none, the program finds itself back in the final looking for its first title since 2004-05.

“Coming in, we were young,” Hamburg head coach Kelly Owens said. “I came in optimistic, so did I think we’d fair fairly well, ‘yes,’ but did I know we’d be at this point, ‘I don’t know,” because we were so young. But we’re here and they deserve to be here.”

Ford also was a big reason the Bulldogs got by the semifinal round. She came out of the gate on fire, scoring 12 of her team-leading 14 points in the first half, including knocking down two three-pointers.

“We got our intensity up early,” Ford said. “When our intensity is down, we tend to get a little stale. I was trying to get everyone going and get them their shots...We work really well together and we know what we’re all capable of. We all push each other to get better. Once we get the ball going, everyone feeds off each other.”

Usually more of a distributor, Ford helped continue to make Hamburg’s offense extremely unpredictable for opponents. Some days it may be the guards like her doing much of the scoring, other times it could be a forward heavy lineup doing the damage. Opponents never quite know from where the Bulldogs offense is coming.

“A lot of teams are starting to play us in a zone, so it’s becoming an inside-outside game — we’ve really emphasized that at practice,” Owens said. “Everyone has got to be ready to go. So , we’re going to get some from the inside; we’ve got to get some from the outside. What’s nice about it is that you never really know who it’s going to come from.”

On this day, it was the guards who stepped to the forefront as Leah Jones also added 11 points, getting off to a good start with nine of those in the second half, while Ally Salerno notched all eight of her points in the second half. Owens said Salerno has enjoyed her best two varsity games in a pair of playoff wins for Hamburg.

Up front, the team’s lone senior starter Taylor Wolf scored eight points, while Hamburg’s leading scorer this season, junior Kendra Quinn-Moultrie, added four and sophomore Ashley Kabza, two.

“Jill is becoming that leader on the floor and she plays with such an intensity — she plays hard every minute of the game,” Owens said. “The kids look for that and feed off of it. Between her, Taylor and Kendra really leading and Leah coming along and fitting into a role, it’s a boost for us.”

Grand Island and Hamburg played a championship game last year that went down to the final seconds. The Vikings again present a major challenge, having been in these types of games often and featuring one of the most imposing players in Western New York in Cassie Oursler. The big senior center scored 34 points in Grand Island’s semifinal win.

“It’s exciting to get back there again and we’re going to see Grand Island again. We’ll be ready to go,” Owens said. “We’re fired up. It was such a great game last year. It could have gone either way. It will be exciting to see what we can do.”

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