By Matt Parrino firstname.lastname@example.org
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — It took Cardinal O'Hara girls basketball coach Dan McDermott three hours to read and respond to all the messages that were waiting for him on his cell phone after his Lady Hawks put the finishing touches on one of the greatest seasons in Western New York girls basketball history last Sunday afternoon, throttling previously unbeaten Martin Luther King, 76-47, to win the New York State Class A Federation championship.
It's only the sixth Federation title in WNY girls hoops history and the first since Holy Angels' Class B Fed title in 1997.
The Lady Hawks moved up to Class A this season after competing in B the past two years, a move O'Hara athletic director Angelo Sciandra wasn't necessarily thrilled about at first. But he said, no matter the obstacles before it, this team was destined for a historic season.
"Nothing has ever been done like this before. I mean, we've had championship teams — the football team had a nice run and teams that have won championships before — but to have a team win a Federation basketball championship in Class A is just enormous," Sciandra said.
The game itself was a laugher. The Lady Hawks dominated and used their tenacious defense and running game to suffocate MLK in the second half after a back and forth contest in the opening 16 minutes.
Senior standout Jontay Walton scored a game-high 20 points to lead another balanced attack for O'Hara. Keyonte Edwards was named the tournament's MVP with 16 points and 16 rebounds against MLK, while Kelsey McCarthy netted 15 and freshman Anndea Zeigler scored 14.
"We could sense that the blueprint that we had all season was starting to take effect against Marin Luther King in the second quarter," McDermott said. "We got it up to eight points at halftime and we could sense that they were starting to show some signs of fatigue. We talked at length at halftime about how important the first three minutes of the third quarter were and we came out strong in the second half and got it up to an 11-point lead. … Then we finished strong in the fourth."
That's a bit of an understatement, as the Lady Hawks used a 22-4 fourth quarter to seal the deal.
Walton, who said it's been an exciting and emotional stretch for the team since the final buzzer sounded, thought her team was able to secure the win because of its determination and speed.
"At the beginning it was a back and forth, we didn't know what the outcome of the game was going to be. We just worked hard and pushed the ball," Walton said. "It seemed like they were getting worn out in the third quarter, so we just kept pushing and we ended up getting the victory. That's what we do well, push the ball."
With so much talent up and down the Hawks' roster, McDermott continues to be amazed at the unselfishness of his team. He said the players' willingness to buy into the team concept made the championship possible.
"It's been like this all season long, just the ability of them to put aside any form of individual stuff and just always play for the good of the team," McDermott said. "This team is the ultimate example of what playing as a team is all about and what you can accomplish when you put your mind to that."
Back in February, which now seems like a season ago, the Lady Hawks began their demolition of the history books at O'Hara with a 70-43 win over Nardin to claim the school's first Monsignor Martin league title in 43 years.
Nardin coach Joe Dougherty, who has been a part of Western New York basketball for 15 years, saw O'Hara up close and personal twice this season. He called them one of the best teams in the history of the area.
"As a team, they played some of the best defense I've ever seen, boys or girls. They were relentless on defense," Dougherty said. "They really love the defensive part of the game. A lot of teams like to play offense and take their breaks on defense, but they turned it up when they were on defense. They made a lot of their runs that way."
Sciandra said there is an argument to made for the Lady Hawks as the greatest girls hoops team in Western New York history.
"It was a great team. I know one can argue that if they won Sunday they'd be the greatest team in the history of Western New York girls basketball. I think one can make that argument. They're certainly one of the greatest girls basketball teams in the history of Western New York," he said.
In the jubilation that followed the championship ceremony, it took McDermott a while to realize that despite the joy and excitement, there is a bit of sadness that accompanied the end of this season. He has to say goodbye to the most successful senior class in school history, which included Walton, Edwards, McCarthy, Aisha Shabazz and Jailyn Dickson.
"It started hitting me on the bus ride home, that with all the celebration you kind of lose track of the fact that with these five seniors, that's it," McDermott said. "That hit me pretty hard on the bus ride home, but the sense of being so proud and privileged to be their coach and what they've been able to accomplish is just amazing. To be in the last game on the last day of basketball season in the New York high school championship, and to come out on top, it's just a feeling that you can't describe."Follow @tonanewssports and sports editor @MattParrino on Twitter for complete high school sports coverage.