Tonawanda News — When Tonawanda girls basketball coach Jay Hall opened up the gym for his team's first practice this season, it was hard for him to envision his Lady Warriors ending the year with another ECIC IV regular-season title after losing four seniors.
But on Tuesday night when the final buzzer sounded and the Lady Warriors celebrated at mid-court, the dream became a reality. Tonawanda's 48-39 win over Alden ensures at least a share of the regular-season league title with Holland, who beat Cleveland Hill on Tuesday night and still has three games left.
"Last year's team was phenomenal and we knew it was going to be tough coming into this year because we lost an awful lot," he said. "We knew we were a different team, but (the players) wanted it from the start. They worked really hard and it feels great to be able to win back-to-back championships, tie or not."
It was fitting that on senior night the Lady Warriors were lifted to victory by senior forward Alex Moore, who's known for her defense and hustle. But against the Lady Bulldogs, Moore was aggressive offensively and finished with 10 points and made key baskets throughout the game to help THS maintain its advantage.
"(Alex) was nice and a surprise offensively," Hall said. "I'm glad for her because she works really hard. Even when she was out she was at practice every day and all these kids — it's a great pleasure to coach them."
After the first quarter, the Lady Warriors trailed 14-7 and looked flat after an emotional senior night presentation. Hall was nervous because his team wasn't doing the little things and Alden was making Tonawanda pay.
"It's hard to come out fired up because they're so emotional and almost (overly) fired up," he said. "I was worried after the first quarter. We weren't boxing out, we were giving them tons of second shots, but after that first quarter we kept chipping away and cut it to one at half."
The Lady Warriors looked like a different team in the second: energized and vocal. They outscored Alden 14-8 in the third quarter, and the catalyst, like it has been all season, was point guard Alanna Herne.
After a Kalyn Compeau 3-pointer to open the half and a Paige Hill layup, Herne sunk a 3-pointer. Then on the very next play secured a rebound under Alden's basket, turned and fired a laser outlet pass to a streaking Compeau at half court, who dribbled the rest of the way for an easy layup.
Hall said he looks to Herne when the chips are down.
"She is a leader and is a great ball handler," he said. "When we really need it she picks it up and hits the open person. Her and Kalyn work so well together running the court. She knows when we're down she needs to pick it up and pick us up, and she did again tonight."
Herne finished with 12 points and five assists and Compeau scored a team-high 14. Both girls hit a pair of 3-pointers.
Tonawanda pulled away in the third quarter, and Herne led the way once again, scoring four straight as part of a 8-1 run. Savanna Baughman scored four of her six points in that stretch and her work on the offensive glass, especially in the third quarter, helped keep Alden from creeping its way back into the game.
Joanna McCarthy, Tonawanda's leading scorer, struggled shooting in the game and finished with only four points, but contributed in other ways. She finished with nine rebounds and accepted the defensive challenge of Alden standout Miranda Daucher, who finished with a game-high 16 points.
After the game, Compeau said she was proud of her team for the way it fought its way back in to the game. Moore said the team is like a family.
"We all wanted this and we wanted it bad," Compeau said. "That was what pushed us. … I can't even begin to describe how it feels. No girls basketball team has ever been this good in many years and it feels great to be part of it."Contact sports editor Matt Parrino at 693-1000 ext. 4117 and find Tonawanda News sports on Twitter @tonanewssports.