BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Clara Strack wiped tears from her eyes before grabbing the championship plaque and thrusting it high above her huddled teammates.
Strack and the Hamburg Bulldogs celebrated a title win Wednesday night that was years in the making, dancing off the floor at Buffalo State Sports Arena after running away from long-standing rival Williamsville South to win the Section VI Class A overall championship.
“I genuinely think this was the best game we’ve ever played as a team,” Strack said following the 58-41 win advancing Hamburg to Far West Regionals for the first time since 2002. “We all just had each other in mind. We all had one goal. We wanted to win, and we wanted to go to states.”
Strack, a Virginia Tech recruit nominated for the McDonald’s All-America, had been sending motivational text messages over the past few days. She sought to raise belief among her teammates before the third crossover matchup in four seasons with Williamsville South. The Billies, ranked No. 3 in the state in Class A, had won the previous playoff battles, along with both regular season meetings.
“They knew that if Clara believed, everyone would buy in,” Hamburg coach Amy Steger said.
Soaking in the shining moment afterward, Strack remarked, “It’s just such an amazing feeling finally beating them after all these years and the way the whole team played today was just incredible.”
Strack performed like a star on the big stage with 28 points and 18 rebounds. Guarded by another one of the area’s premier players in South’s Gretchen Dolan, the 6-foot-3 Strack used her height advantage and deft footwork for several post-up baskets, and her long arms were a difference-maker on the defensive end.
“I knew going in that I had a size advantage and it would be my strongest point,” Strack said. “I tried to do the best that I could. It was a hard matchup. Gretchen is an amazing player and an amazing defender.”
Dolan scored 34 points in the loss. The Illinois recruit finished her senior season with 816 points (38.9 average), a Section VI record and tied for the fifth-most in NYSPHSAA history. Dolan’s 2,622 career points rank third all-time in WNY and 12th in the state.
But the Bulldogs didn’t allow another Billies player to score more than one basket, and Dolan’s ability to do it all for South deteriorated as the game wore on.
Hamburg (16-8), ranked 10th in the state in Class A, returns to Buff State at 7 p.m. Saturday to meet sixth-ranked Canandaigua from Section V, a team it lost 57-47 against on a neutral floor at Finger Lakes Community College in January.
Having finally slayed the South beast in sectionals, however, Hamburg now believes no opponent is unbeatable.
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Jonah Bronstein joined the News 4 roster in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. Read more of his work here.