by Larry Austin
Grand Island's boys basketball season ended with a heartbreaking basket at the buzzer Wednesday night.
Hamburg point guard Tom Lipomi picked up a loose ball and hit an 18-foot jump shot at the buzzer to give the Bulldogs a 52-51 win over Grand Island in the Section VI Class A-1 prequarterfinal playoffs.
GI's finishes the year with a 4-15 record, while Hamburg advances to a quarterfinal at Williamsville East Friday night.
"It was a team effort. It wasn't me, I had the easy part. My boys helped me out all night long," Lipomi said. "I just want to play Friday night vs. Will East. That's all that matters. We want to go to Buff State."
GI had taken a 51-50 lead on a 3-point basket by Quinn Carey with :33 seconds left. Hamburg nearly lost the handle on the ball, but called a timeout with 1.4 seconds left to set up a baseline inbounds play for Nick Benningfield, who had 22 points on the game. GI's Ryan Ross deflected the pass, but Lipomi picked it up, wheeled and swished a jump shot as time expired.
Hamburg Coach Tim Brueckl said that wasn't the baseline play that was drawn up in the huddle.
"We were trying to run it for No. 12, Benningfield, to get open and then if not the roller should have been wide open coming back, which he was right down the middle, and we we missed the guy wide open and panicked and tried to throw it out. They tipped it and it went to our guy, and we got lucky and made a shot. In that situation, you don't deserve to win that game, but sometimes the ball bounces that way."
"It's not obviously the way we designed it, but we'll take the way the outcome was."
"He probably made two 3s all year," Brueckl said of Lipomi.
"We played it perfect, too," GI Coach Nate Beutel said of defending the baseline inbounds. "We had three guys running to 12. We were making sure he wasn't beating us. And Ross tipped it, it went in the air, it bounced, and somehow there was still enough time for them to score."
"That's the way it goes, I guess."
The buzzer-beater overshadowed a lionhearted GI comeback from a 7-point fourth quarter deficit. After Hamburg led 37-36 through three quarters, the Vikings trailed by 45-38 with 5:58 left in the game, but clawed their way back, culminating in a clutch 3-point shot by freshman Quinn Carey that gave them a 51-50 lead with :33 left.
"This team never quits. We struggled at times this year, we've been blown out in games, and we just don't stop coming," said Beutel. "Niagara-Wheatfield, our only league win, same thing. We're down in the fourth quarter 7, 8 points, but we come back. We don't stop coming, and if there's one thing that I think we should be known for it's that we never quit."
Grand Island had only four wins on the season going into the contest, but were the Bulldogs' equal for the entire game. The game illustrated a Vikings character trait the team has developed in spite of a 4-14 season record.
"They worked hard, they worked hard today. It was a battle all night long," Lipomi said.
"They did a great job. I've got to give Coach Beutel credit," Brueckl said. "They had a good game plan and they did a good job and they never stopped fighting even when we got up there in the fourth. They fought back."
"Kids that we didn't have scouted to do some of the things they were doing were doing a great job."
GI led 15-10 after one quarter, but struggled offensively thereafter, Beutel said.
"Bottom line is we just couldn't run our offense good enough after the first quarter. We scored a lot on the fast break, which is nice, but our halfcourt offense just wasn't good enough," Beutel said.