Starters score 61 of Blue Devils' 71 points
By David Yarger
In front of an excited crowd at Kenmore West High School, the Blue Devils defeated the Grand Island Vikings 71-50 on Friday. The win gives West a split of the season series, as they lost in overtime to the Vikings the first time, 58-56.
The loss for Grand Island has now created havoc atop the Niagara Frontier League. There are now four teams with three losses: GI, Ken-West, North Tonawanda and Lockport. The Blue Devils have won seven out of their past eight NFL games to get to 9-3.
Ken-West coach Mike Meetze said not having senior guard Tal James for the first matchup hurt his team. James was sick for the first contest.
James presence was felt quickly this time around, as he drained a 3-pointer to open the game for the Blue Devils. Fellow guard Tyler Aquilina followed up by draining a 3 of his own.
The hot shooting continued throughout the first quarter, as James, Aquilina and Kevin Carpenter combined to shoot an unconscious 7-8 from three-point range.
The Vikings could not counter offensively and, at the end of the first quarter, Ken-West led, 27-11.
West would go on to hit one more 3 in the half, but Grand Island began to inch closer. Garrett Robinson's defense caused the Blue Devils to turn the ball over and, after a Liam Carey layup, the Blue Devil lead was cut to 11.
The Vikings had a shot to cut the lead to 7, but two missed layups ended the half.
Ken-West led, 35-24.
The Vikings have been prone to coming back to win games. In a game against Niagara Falls, they came back after being down as much as 15.
That wasn't the case Friday.
Although they did cut the lead to 8 in the fourth, the Vikings had no answer for the Blue Devils' offense.
Carpenter came out in the third quarter and notched 10 points. He finished with 13. At the end of the third, it was 53-37.
Grand Island went on an 8-0 run to start the fourth quarter, led by a 3 from Sionko and then a 3 and layup from Robinson. The run cut the West lead to 8, at 53-45.
That's as close at the Vikings would get. The Blue Devils answered with an 18-5 run to close out the game. They won 71-50.
In all, 55 out of the 71 points came from what Meetze called "the big three" of James, Aquilina and Carpenter. He said experience has made a key difference for his team.
"They're three three-year guards, and they're used to being part of the program and what we expect," he said. "It's their turn to take us to the next level."
He said the graduation of past players, such as Terell Ford, has put the trio in position to be "the big three."
Grand Island coach Ron Krysztof agreed with Meetze that James was a big factor in the game.
"Tal James, period. He was the difference," Krysztof said. "Kid played phenomenal. He was hitting contested 3s, going between his legs and hitting contested pull-ups, getting into the lane and making shots with contact. He's a difference-maker for sure."
Krysztof said he would hate to be in the AA bracket in sectionals and have to face Kenmore West, calling them a "tough out."
James credited the game to his teammates and work ethic.
"Basically, it was my team giving me the ball," he said. "I just got my shots off, and it's something I work on in the gym every day."
For the Vikings, Carey led with 11 points. Sionko chipped in 9, and Robinson and J.B. Wilkes added 7 apiece.
The road doesn't get easier for the Vikings. They host Niagara Falls on Tuesday and then travel to Lockport on Friday. That's two games against two high-powered NFL teams.
Krysztof said Grand Island has the toughest stretch to finish the year, but told his team to stay up.
"As tough as today was, we're still in a tie for first place," he said. "I told them, after we lost to Lockport, leave with your head held high, because it's not like this counts for six losses"
He said the team's goal at the start of the year was to make it to Buffalo State - the location of the Section VI championships. Winning the NFL title wasn't the main goal, but it's here and still obtainable.
An NFL title would be the first in school history. Krysztof said it would be something special.
"It would be awesome," he said. "We talked before, that no team has ever won the NFL from Grand Island. I gave a speech yesterday, how cool it would be, 20 years from now, to have a banner hanging up, and we could know we shared that with each other."
The home game Tuesday, against the Falls, will be played at 6:30 p.m.
For the Blue Devils, they finished the night 9-12 from three-point range. James led with 22 points, while Aquilina, Carpenter and Kyle Laplante added 20, 13 and 6, respectively.
Meetze and James said that, even with three other teams with three losses, they still like their chances at possibly winning the NFL title.
Their next NFL game will be a rivalry game against Kenmore East next Friday.
First, though, they face the Cheektowaga Warriors in a nonleague game. That will be a test, as Cheektowaga possesses the No. 1 player in Western New York, Dom Welch.
The highly touted Welch comes in averaging over 27 points per game.
Meetze said he wanted this game late on his nonleague schedule.
"We were hoping we were going to make a sectional run, so we purposely put Cheektowaga there," he said. "I said to the guys earlier, 'You're not going to see a better player in WNY than who you are Tuesday night.' If we really wanna make a run in sectionals, how're we going to fare against probably one of the best kids in WNY?"
James said the team must keep the ball out of Welch's hands.
"We just have to stop him from getting the ball, period, because their whole team runs through him," he said.
Ken-West will host Cheektowaga at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday.