by Larry Austin
Grand Island won the Niagara Frontier League girls basketball championship for the second year in a row with a 37-36 victory over visiting Lockport on Tuesday.
The two teams entered the game, the final one on the league schedule, both with 12-1 NFL records. GI's only loss came at Lockport in the two teams' first meeting of the season.
GI coach Jen Banker called the victory "a real nice Valentine's Day present." GI has won NFL titles in 2001-02, 2004-05 and 2010-11 during Banker's tenure as head coach.
"This is exciting. I love this group of kids. They've come together real nicely this year, so I'm real proud of them," she said.
In the first meeting of the season, GI's all-time leading scorer Kallie Banker was held to just six field goal attempts in the Lion's Den, but she said she made a more concerted effort to look for her shot in the rematch. She led all scorers with 15 points Tuesday despite being double-teamed at times.
"I definitely was coming into the game focused to shoot more because after the first game where I only had six shots I had to step it up a little bit," Kallie Banker said.
Cassie Oursler added 10. Megan Karpie had 6 points, all in the first half, and Grace Olszewski had 6 points, all in the second half for the Vikings.
"They played a game that allowed (Olszewski) to be wide open, and we wanted her to shoot that with confidence when she was open," Jen Banker said. "She did a nice job of doing that."
Karpie ended the half with a jumper to put GI up 5, 22-17. GI extended the lead to as much as 7, 26-19, before the Lions took a short-lived lead, 30-29, on a 3-point hoop by Patti Burdick and a jumper by Marissa Guyton.
"It's always going to be a 1 or 2 point game," Jen Banker said of games against Lockport. The first meeting was a 44-39 Lions win decided by free throws down the stretch.
Kallie Banker scored her last points of the game to give GI a 31-30 lead after three quarters. Olszewski canned a jump shot in the final quarter, and Oursler had two of her three hoops on the game in the last eight minutes. She and Cassie Bennett celebrated their 17th birthdays Tuesday.
"It's the best Valentine's Day and the best birthday present I could ever have in my entire life," Oursler said.
"They thought they were going to have it because they won on their home court," she said. "I had a feeling the entire day that we had this."
GI seemed to have the game won when a Lockport shot for the win went out of bounds without drawing iron as the shot clock expired. But the officials put 1 second back on the shot clock with 3.6 seconds on the game clock and gave the ball back to Lockport on the baseline. The Lions turned it over, however, and GI ran out the clock and started the party.
"They're definitely our rival. We obviously have respect for them because they're a good team, but we do have a rivalry because it's always been between us two in the NFL the last few years," Oursler said. "We've got it the last two years from them."