By David Yarger
In front of a packed house at Lewiston-Porter High School on Friday, the Niagara-Wheatfield Falcons defeated the Lew-Port Lancers by a score of 65-62.
In what Wheatfield coach Erik O'Bryan called, "a good team win," the Falcons overcame a physical battle from the Lancers and came through with a fourth quarter comeback that was exciting for the team and Falcon faithful in attendance.
The Falcons, starting an eighth-grader, a sophomore, two juniors and one senior, had a tough start to the game. The Lancers came out aggressive on defense, pushing the young squad around a little bit and showing some strength.
The Lancers held eighth-grade starter Jalen Bradberry to 5 points at halftime, something many teams have struggled to do. Lancers senior Will Duff, who covered Bradberry for most of the first half, had a big start that led to the Lancers leading 38-29. Duff finished the game with 14 points.
On the court, Bradberry and teammates were visibly mad at the outcome of the half. In the locker room, the Falcons had to come together to try and mount a comeback and coach O'Bryan said that's exactly what occurred.
"We had more leadership in the locker room at halftime than we've ever had," he said. "And I think it's because they're growing together. They calmed Jalen down a lot."
O'Bryan gave credit to Lancers coach Matthew Bradshaw for his game plan on Bradberry, saying Lew-Port was rough with him and that's a good game plan - and it worked.
In the second half, the Falcons started to pick away at the Lew-Port lead.
With the Falcons down by 3, Bradberry missed a lay-up that would've made it a 1-point game. Every time the Falcons missed a shot, the Lancers' Dylan Morissette always seemed to be under the rim to grab the rebound. He finished with 18 boards on the night. The Lancers finished the quarter by extending the lead back to 7, 51-44.
In the fourth quarter, the ball refused to go into the basket for the Lancers, as many opportunities hit the rim and bounced out.
For the Falcons, it was the complete opposite. Junior Ben Devantier nailed two 3-pointers to start the fourth quarter to cut the Lancers lead to 51-50. The Lancers would answer with a bucket of their own, making it 53-50.
The "Mean Green" fan section of Lew-Port echoed chants all game toward Bradberry, knowing the hype the eighth-grader possessed. With under five minutes left, Bradberry silenced the chants with a game-tying 3 to make it 53-53. He later hit two free throws to give the Falcons their first lead with a little over two minutes left.
The Lancers clawed their way back to gain the lead. Then, after a layup by Bradberry, the score was 62-62 with under a minute to go.
Senior Jaeger Martino added to his spectacular game by hitting a free throw to give the Falcons a 63-62 lead. Martino finished with 20 points. O'Bryan said he proved him wrong.
"Jaeger tells me he wants to do this or play this. Well, we called him out, and I told him to prove me wrong. And there was it; Jaeger proved me wrong," O'Bryan said.
After some missed open shots by the Lancers, two free throws made by Falcon Anthony Ruffino and then a desperation half-court shot by Dawson Bailey that just missed tying the game, the final score was 65-62 Falcons.
Even though the Lancers took the loss, Bradshaw said he was very pleased with his team's effort.
"Nothing really went wrong. We knew it was going to be a tight game," he said. "That game was ours; if we make a lay-up and one of the four shots there at the end of the game, we win that game. It was a fight at the end, and my kids worked extremely hard and I thought we out-toughed them. I thought we were more physical, but we just made a few too many mistakes at the end."
The Lancers were led by Bailey, who had 15 points. Dylan Milbrand also added 13, and Trent Scott pitched in 10 points.
For the Falcons, O'Bryan praised the Lancers and Bradshaw, saying it was a difficult game to win.
"Coming here to win is tough," O'Bryan said. "Coach Bradshaw does a wonderful job with his group. They play physical, they play hard, and they're always prepared. You add the crowd into it, and it was a hostile environment for us."
In the Falcons comeback, Martino led the squad with 20 points. Bradberry finished with 19. Ruffino pitched in 12 and Devantier came off the bench to add 8.
For the Lancers (3-8, 2-5 in league), their next contest will be on the road against the Grand Island Vikings on Tuesday, Jan. 17 (6:30 p.m.). Bradshaw said he had high hopes after Friday's game, and noted his team is playing as hard as it has all year.
For the Falcons (4-7, 3-4 in league), O'Bryan wouldn't call the win a confidence booster for the team's next game, citing that there is still work to be done and the team, "sinks and swims together."
N-W's next contest will be at home against the Lockport Lions, also on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.