Niagara Falls puts a damper on Grand Island's title hopes
By David Yarger
In front of a loud crowd inside Grand Island High School on Tuesday, the Niagara Falls High School Wolverines defeated the Grand Island Vikings by a score of 70-62. The win gives the Wolverines a split of the season series, as they lost the first game to the Vikings, 61-53.
For Grand Island, this loss is its fourth in the Niagara Frontier League. Now, the Vikings must hope all of the three-loss teams lose, just for them to earn a four-way split of the league title.
The defeat marked the first time the Vikings lost back-to-back games this season.
Niagara Falls came out firing on all cylinders, leading by 10 at the end of the first quarter, 17-7. If it wasn't for turnovers, the Wolverines' lead could've been higher.
The Vikings began to turn those turnovers into points and, after big shots by Devin Brandon and Cam Sionko, the Vikings won the second quarter, 22-21. They trailed at halftime, 38-29.
Sionko had 13 points at the half, on his way to a game-high 21.
The Wolverines, as in past games, got off to a slow second-half start. More turnovers plagued the third quarter, and shots by Sionko, Liam Carey and Garrett Robinson cut the Wolverines lead to 5 by the end of the third, 55-50.
The Wolverines started the fourth by nailing a 3-pointer to extend the lead to 8.
Carey was called for a technical foul and the Wolverines went to the free-throw line to shoot two and then receive possession of the ball. Niagara Falls couldn't muster a point, however, missing both free throws and turning it over on the next possession.
Grand Island cut the lead to 3 when J.B. Wilkes was fouled and made a layup. The free throw would've cut the Wolverines' lead to 2, but the shot was no good.
Six missed free throws down the stretch would come back to haunt the Vikings.
After buckets and free throws by Niagara Falls' Tazaun Rose and Marquise Miller, the Wolverines held on to defeat the Vikings, 70-62.
Rose and Miller led the offense, scoring 16 and 15 points, respectively. Last weekend's "Battle at the Border" Player of the Game Tyler Sanders added 14, giving him 45 points in his last two games.
"Ty is playing within himself," coach Sal Constantino said. "He's not taking bad shots; he's not trying to do things that he's not capable of doing. He's intelligent on and off the court, and he's been successful."
Constantino said he was happy with the effort his team gave. The Wolverines were shorthanded again, sporting only nine active players.
"I thought the guys that played today gave a really good effort," he said. "We had a very small bench, and a couple guys, when they did get in, didn't give us a lot. So, that shortened our bench more. (But), I mean, I'm really happy with the effort that the guys gave tonight."
The win ends regular season play for the Wolverines, giving them a final NFL record of 10-4. Constantino said the team is now focused on its first sectional playoff game.
"We're getting there. We've made baby-steps," he said. "Now, the unfortunate thing is, we don't play again till the 24th. So, we got a lot of time to, hopefully, go over the things that we're not doing well."
He also said his team isn't going to lose momentum, because they are playing well, and that he hopes the team can fit in a couple scrimmages before the first playoff game.
Niagara Falls' opponent for the first playoff game on Feb. 24 is currently unknown, but Constantino said it would be a road game - more than likely at Kenmore West or Williamsville North.
For the Vikings, along with Sionko's 21 points, Brandon was next in line with 14.
With Kenmore West, Lockport and North Tonawanda on top of the NFL with three losses, this fourth loss for GI has relegated its title hopes to a miracle.
Coach Ron Krysztof said being in the running for the title is nice, but the main goal was to make a sectional run.
"We're looking to finish it strong," he said. "We went in with a goal to make Buff State and, right now, I think we're sitting at the (No.) 3 seed. So, the NFL wasn't even on our mind to start the season, but the opportunity presented itself, and was there, and we didn't step up to the plate."
Krysztof said the focus now is Lockport, and then Kenmore East, as his team readies itself for the playoffs. He said the team would look to clean up some errors it made vs. Niagara Falls.
"The missed layups and foul shots are something we work on every day," he said. "A lot of it comes to mental toughness, especially foul-line shots; you gotta make them, period. And layups; you gotta make them, period. It's what separates good programs from bad ones."
Krysztof called the layups, "varsity layups," and a difference in the game.
Grand Island looks to get back in the win column, as the team travels to Lockport High School for a 6:30 p.m. tip-off on Friday, Feb. 10.