Eighth-graders combine for 28 of 48 Wolverines points
By David Yarger
The Niagara Falls Wolverines came into the Section VI Class AA playoffs as the favorite to win it all. On Thursday night, they were put to the test late, but survived a fight from the No. 4 seed Jamestown Red Raiders, winning 48-39.
The win sends the No. 1 seeded Wolverines to their fourth straight Class AA sectional final and their 16th appearance in 18 years.
In past years, it's been seniors to help lead the Wolverines to victory, but Thursday it was the underclassmen that stole the show at Buffalo State College.
Eighth-graders Willie Lightfoot and Roddy Gayle combined for 28 of the Wolverines' 48 points and set the tone early.
Coach Sal Constantino believed his upperclassmen were trying to do too much at times, where the underclassmen didn't let the big stage get the best of them.
"I think the young guys; I don't think they know to be nervous on this stage and stuff," Constantino said. "Sometimes tonight, I think our seniors ... tried too hard. I think they looked and they figured 'last time, last time.' "
Constantino added that his team looked mad, despite winning and he credited that to the success the team has had this season.
In the first quarter, Jamestown grabbed a quick 4-0 lead, but the Wolverines answered back with the 3-ball. After a floater by Gayle, he came back down and hit a trey, which Lightfoot followed with a 3-pointer of his own.
With an 8-6 lead, Gayle hit another trey, Lightfoot made another shot and then Josiah Harris drilled a 3-pointer to finish the quarter and give the Wolverines a 16-6 lead.
The Falls started the second quarter on a 9-1 run, extending their lead to 25-7. The Wolverines lead got as high as 19, when Quran Dubois made a layup to make it 29-10.
Jamestown ended the half with a 9-2 run, though, making the score 31-19 at halftime, Wolverines.
The third quarter was a very slow played period. Both teams combined for 14 points and after three quarters, the Wolverines led, 37-27.
After a Gayle driving layup, Jamestown went on a 9-0 run to make the score 39-36, Wolverines.
As the score got closer, Constantino called a timeout to calm his team down.
He said, "We're making this harder on ourselves. When we walk out for that next possession forget about the last possession. We always talk about the good players always forget the last play."
At that point, Constantino subbed in his four seniors and after a bucket by Lightfoot, senior Marquise Miller put a damper in the Red Raiders comeback with a breakaway and one, which he converted.
Later on, senior Tazaun Rose went to the line to ice the game and made the first free throw. Niagara Falls sent their players back to play defense, leaving Rose as the only man to get a rebound if he missed. Rose missed, and outhustled four Red Raiders to get the rebound.
After three more free throws, the Wolverines had survived and advanced, 48-39.
For the Wolverines, Lightfoot led the way with 16, while Gayle added 12.
After scoring 31 in the first half, the Wolverines followed that with 17 in the second half. Constantino credited Jamestown for slowing the team down.
"I thought Jamestown did a really nice job of slowing down the tempo," he said. "We're not going to win a lot of games when we don't score 50."
Constantino added that the team had to run plays in the win, which he said his team is better off when they are running in transition and not playing at a slow pace.
Constantino also gave credit to assistant coach Brent Gadacz for the job he did scouting Jamestown prior to their game. He said Gadacz's scouting helped because "We kept a very good team under 40."
As the favorite in the tournament and a team with a storied history, the Wolverines have a target on their back and will get every teams best effort. Constantino agreed saying, "You're gonna have people from Niagara Falls cheering for us and people from Jamestown that are here to cheer for them. Everybody in the middle will cheer for them, because everyone loves the underdog. So if we gotta walk around with the black hats on then that's OK, but we have to embrace that."
Up next, the Wolverines are looking to win their third straight sectional title. In their way is Williamsville North, who defeated Orchard Park in the semifinals.
Constantino said he wants his team to be calmer and play a lot looser than they did Thursday night.
"Let's just come out and let's not get so tight out there," he said. "I think we had a couple guys ... that came out tight. ... Just let the game come to you, lets go with flow and I like our chances against anybody."
The Wolverines take on the Spartans looking for their 20th sectional title in program history at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Buff. State.