By David Yarger
The final day of the Cataract City Classic could not have finished any better. Each game on Saturday was action-packed and close the entire way, as the biggest defeat was by 12 points. Some of the best athletes from Western New York, as well as the Rochester area, came to the "Wolvarena" at Niagara Falls High School and did not disappoint the loud and energetic fans.
With the Classic going on day two in the gym and the Niagara Falls Fire Department's toy telethon going on in the Performing Arts Center, Niagara Falls High School was filled with good cause.
As the fire department raised money to purchase Christmas gifts for Niagara Falls children, the Cataract Classic raised money for the Niagara Falls Education Fund.
Along with all the good presented off the court, the product on the court was also worthy. From poster-worthy dunks to clutch shots late in the game, the final day of the 2016 Cataract City Classic was one that will be remembered.
Here are game-by-game recaps:
Wilson High School Lakemen vs. Nichols High School Vikings
The first game of the day was played in front of a small audience, mostly parents and press, but the crowds would grow as the games progressed.
The Vikings halted a Lakemen comeback in the second half and won 60-48.
Nichols led by 14 at halftime behind the lights-out shooting of William Johnson and Aidan Horan, who hit five combined three-pointers before halftime.
Wilson refused to go down, cutting the gap in half by the end of the third quarter to make it 44-37. Justin Daul and Steve Frerichs each pitched in good efforts in trying to start a comeback, but Nichols ran away with the lead and won by 12. Daul and Frerichs finished with 13 and 11 points respectively. Daul ended up winning Player of the Game for Wilson.
Nichols forward Miles Hervey scored 11 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter to help the Vikings close it out, while Johnson took home Player of the Game honors with a game-high 19 points.
East High School Panthers vs. Amherst High School Tigers
The second game of the day was back and forth all game, with both teams swapping the lead several times. The Tigers would hold on and defeat the East Panthers 62-60.
The game was a showcase between East's Willard Anderson and Amherst's Marcellus Cooper. Each player led his respective team in points and consistently made big plays.
Anderson finished with a game-high 28 points in the loss and had the crowd in awe with his ball handling and shooting ability. He had 16 points at halftime and, near the end of the game, was a big reason why East stayed so close in this game. Anderson would take home Player of the Game for East.
Cooper finished with 16 points, on his way to Player of the Game honors. His day was highlighted by two emphatic dunks just seconds apart from each other. One he tomahawked over an East defender, which got the crowd onto its feet and roaring. His presence was also felt on defense, as he had multiple blocks and made life difficult for any Panther looking to score.
Cheektowaga Central High School Warriors vs. Bishop Kearney High School Kings
The third game of the day was one that had a lot of hype built around it.
Cheektowaga came in with one of the top players in Western New York in Dominick Welsh, and Bishop Kearney is known for always being a power in basketball near Rochester. The game lived up to its hype, as Bishop Kearney, with only eight players, defeated Cheektowaga 67-59.
Welsh put on a show for the fans in the loss, scoring a game-high 29 points. The Player of the Game for the Warriors sent the crowd into a frenzy after he jumped over a Kings defender and slammed it emphatically for an and-one play.
Along with his long-range shooting, Welsh gave the crowd its money's worth in a tough loss. Adrian Baugh also had a big game for the Warriors, supplying four three-pointers.
For Bishop Kearney, Nahziah Carter was not afraid of the challenge of facing Welsh. On his way to Player of the Game honors, he pitched in 23 points, highlighted by a towering alley-oop slam. Nahziah played a big part on defense, as the 6'5" senior had several steals - many late in the game - to help seal the game for the Kings.
Even with eight players on the roster, Kearney did not show any signs of fatigue, and was always at a fast pace on offense - a huge key to victory.
Niagara Falls High School Wolverines vs. University Prep High School
The final game of the classic lived up to its primetime billing. Like Friday night for the Wolverines, it went down to the wire, but this time it went the Wolverines way, as they defeated UPrep 65-64.
Niagara Falls did not lead the game until the fourth quarter, and was down 31-19 at halftime. The team looked fatigued from its battle with Park the night before. Early on, the ball wouldn't fall into the hoop for the team, and it looked like it could be a long night for the Wolverines.
The Wolverines cut it to one point in the third quarter before UPrep ended the quarter on a run and the score was 46-39 UPrep.
The Falls tied the game up on a long three-pointer from Tazuan Rose to make the score 52-52. Rose would hit a free throw shortly after and the Wolverines had their first lead, 53-52.
The Falls would go on an 11-2 run to make it 64-55 with 1:30 left in the game. The 64th point would be costly for the Wolverines, after Syquan Ralands slammed the ball in for two points, he was called for a technical foul for hanging on the rim.
UPrep used this to its advantage and stormed back to make it 64-63 with 44 seconds left. After UPrep's Jeenathan Williams Jr. stole the ball and scored to make it 64-63, the team promptly fouled Wolverine Jamel Burton to make him shoot free throws. Burton would make only one out of the two for a 65-63 lead. This gave UPrep another chance to survive the Wolverines' comeback.
With eight seconds left, the Player of the Game for UPrep, Williams Jr., was fouled and went to the line to shoot two free throws. He sunk the first to make it 65-64. Timeout was called on the floor by UPrep after the first free throw. Williams Jr. went back to the line with a chance to tie, but his free throw hit the back of the rim and was no good. The ball was rebounded by the Falls, which held onto to preserve the comeback victory.
UPrep's Williams Jr. scored 20 points in the loss, while his teammate, Kassius Williams, chipped in with 11.
The Wolverines avenged their loss against Park High School the night prior, and lifted their confidence with a big comeback win. Rose led the team in scoring for the second night in a row with 18 points, on his way to his second Player of the Game.
Assisting him in the win was Jhamir Isom and Burton with 9 points. Five of Isom's points came in the fourth quarter with a three-pointer, and then two free throws to make it 58-55. Ten different Wolverines scored points in the victory.
After a thrilling finish to the basketball portion of the Cataract City Classic, the focus will now turn to the fourth annual hockey portion of the Cataract City Classic.
On Thursday, Dec. 29, and Friday, Dec. 30, the event will be held at Hyde Park Ice Rink and feature four high school hockey teams. Lewiston-Porter will face off against North Tonawanda at 4 p.m., while Amherst will play Niagara Falls at 5 p.m.
Both teams will play the next day, with the winners of the games playing in a championship and the losing teams playing in a consolation game. Both of the Friday games will start at 4 p.m.