Lady Billies beat Dunkirk for back-to-back B1 titles

Fredonia moves on to play SW

Fredonia’s Katie Price gathers herself while under duress during the Class B1 girls’ championship basketball game held at Buffalo State.

BUFFALO — The Fredonia Lady Billies are champions once again, and this time, victory tastes even sweeter than ever before.

Fredonia defeated Dunkirk, 72-37, to win the Class B1 Championship for the second year in a row in girls basketball at Buffalo State on Sunday.

Playing its longtime rival on the biggest stage in the history of the rivalry, Fredonia (12-12, 5-seed) started off with a bang. The Lady Billies jumped out to an early 8-0 lead on a layup by senior leader Katie Price, plus a foul, which prompted Dunkirk to call a timeout.

Dunkirk (11-13, 11-seed) responded well, closing the gap and ending the first quarter only down by two points, 12-10, despite nine points from Price.

“We had the belief that we could play (with Fredonia),” said Dunkirk coach Darnell Baldwin.

The Lady Marauders took the lead for the first time on a three from Olivia Smith, to put Dunkirk ahead 15-12. Immediately, Price answered with a three of her own to tie the game. Amari Carter scored on a layup to put Dunkirk back up, but once again, Price answered with another three. Every time Dunkirk hit the right note on offense, Fredonia came right back with an answer.

Fredonia went into halftime with a five point lead, 28-23, over rival Dunkirk. Price had 15 points at the break.

“Give it to Dunkirk, they came out and they played tough and they played hard,” said Fredonia coach Carol Zirkle. “They really wanted it.”

The game remained close at the beginning of the third quarter, but close to the halfway mark, Price drilled two more 3-pointers, putting the Lady Billies up by double digits, 41-29, with 3:41 remaining in the third quarter.

With the game beginning to slip away from the Lady Marauders, Dunkirk needed to make a run to get back in the game. Fredonia, however, was not going to let that happen.

The second of Price’s 3-pointers in the quarter was the beginning of a 14-1 run in the second half of the third quarter. Jayvee call-up Maddy Marsh finished off the quarter with a buzzer-beater to cap off the run, giving the Lady Billies a 52-30 lead heading to the final quarter.

Just the same as Thursday in the semifinal stage, Fredonia’s sizable third quarter run — each punctuated by a buzzer-beater — led to an early run at the beginning of the fourth quarter, as well. Fredonia scored the first eight points of the fourth, putting the Lady Billies ahead 60-30 with just under six minutes remaining. In all, the two runs combined to form a 22-1 Fredonia advantage that spanned just over six minutes of action.

“We stepped up on defense and we were getting fastbreaks,” said Zirkle. “That was huge. We were able to capitalize on our conditioning at the end of the game.”

From that point, it was only a matter of time before the Lady Billies claimed a second consecutive title.

“I was really impressed with how we came out and played in the second half,” said Zirkle. “We made the adjustments we needed to defensively and that’s when we really got the offense going.”

Price tied her career high with 30 points, a mark she hit for the first time in the last Dunkirk-Fredonia rivalry game. She added five rebounds and three steals, while hitting five 3-pointers.

“Katie had a monster game,” said Zirkle. “She just worked hard. She wanted the ball in her hands and she did a good job of changing speeds to get the ball.”

After 30 points in the last matchup of the two teams, Dunkirk knew Price would be the focal point of the Lady Billies offensively. The Lady Marauders just could not stop her once again.

“We knew it was going to be her show if we allowed it to be,” said Baldwin. “We allowed it to be her show and she did what she’s capable of doing.”

The senior leading scorer wasn’t ready to close the book on her impressive career in orange and white.

“I wanted this for my team and for my coach,” said Price. “I just wanted to keep going and I knew that I had to be on fire to do that.”

Another senior, Gracie Morrison, stepped up in a big way for Fredonia, tallying 16 points, six rebounds and five assists. Kazlin Beers also filled the stat sheet with eight points, eight rebounds, seven assists, three steals and two blocks, while guarding Dunkirk’s leading scorer, Kymi Nance, for most of the game. Nance led Dunkirk with 12 points.

Fredonia led in every statistical category on Sunday. The Lady Billies tallied 24 assists, while outrebounding Dunkirk 35-27. Fredonia also had 12 steals, creating 18 points off turnovers and added 16 second chance points.

“The number of assists that we had is very impressive,” said Zirkle. “We did a great job of seeing our teammates and getting the ball to the right person at the right time.”

Despite falling to rival Fredonia on the biggest stage of the season, the fact that Dunkirk was on the stage to compete with the defending champions of B1 — a team that has reached the B1 finals four straight years — is a notable achievement for the Lady Marauders. In his first year as Dunkirk’s head coach, Baldwin took a team of five sophomore starters from one win all season last year to one win away from a B1 title. The Lady Marauders have certainly had quite an impressive turnaround.

“If you instill the belief and come with the hard work, anything is possible. I’ve seen it time and time again,” said Baldwin. “This is the standard for us now.”

Baldwin also credited Nance for becoming a “phenomenal player” this season. The sophomore Lady Marauder was noticeably emotional after the loss.

“She’s taking it the worst of everyone in the locker room,” said Baldwin. “That’s because she wants to win and she knows that we can.”

For Fredonia, however, this moment is especially sweet. In Zirkle’s long tenure as Fredonia head coach, the Lady Billies have never faced Dunkirk in a championship game. This win, on the biggest stage in the history of the historic rivalry, means all that much more.

“I’m just so happy for these girls. They’ve worked so hard and to see them step up and have the limelight that they didn’t necessarily have last year. For them to have that opportunity to step up and be leaders and take the team to the next level, that’s very special,” said Zirkle.

“It’s incredible, honestly,” added Price. “I love my teammates, I love my coach… All of the support makes this all the better.”

Zirkle didn’t shy away from admitting the moment was extra special with the win coming against Dunkirk.

“It adds more excitement, and it adds more fans here,” said Zirkle. “For the girls, that rivalry is a big thing. It adds a little more pressure, for both teams, but it adds to that level of excitement.”

For Dunkirk, the loss stings worse than any other loss on the year. Still, Baldwin recognizes what a special year it was.

“I wanted to thank the community for coming out to support us,” said Baldwin. “For them to come out in the championship game like that, I think that was stellar. I’m just sorry we couldn’t bring it home.”

Fredonia will now face Southwestern, a CCAA Division 1 West foe that Fredonia fell to twice in the regular season. Fredonia finished third in the division in the regular season, while the Lady Trojans were the top team in the league. Southwestern will be a tough task for Zirkle’s bunch in the Crossover Final on Wednesday.

But Wednesday is another day. Sunday was a day of celebration for Fredonia, winners of the cross-town rivalry for the third time this season and champions of the class once again.

Twitter: @bradencarmen