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FALLS HOOPS MAINTAINS ITS INDEPENDENCE

It appears that the Niagara Falls Wolverines will go it alone again as an independent next boys basketball season. And you can't blame them.

The notoriety the Wolverines earned by winning the state Federation championship and finishing in the top three of six national polls -- including No. 3 in USA Today -- is earning the school more offers to participate in out-of-town tournaments and nonleague games against high profile opponents.

The Section VI basketball committee and the Niagara Frontier League have
approved Falls' bid to become independent again next season; a final Section VI meeting today is expected to approve a similar arrangement to last season, when Falls was permitted to play an independent schedule before entering the Section VI playoffs.

Even though Falls loses three first-team All-Western New York players in Paul Harris, Greg Gamble and Robert Garrison, the team is obviously still going to be strong behind second-team guard Jonathan Flynn and forwards Tyrell Lynch (6-8) and Miguel Respress (6-7). Rashon Tabb, a strong, sharpshooting 6-2 freshman who was ineligible this season, could also make a big impact next year if he continues his recent academic improvements.

Tournaments in Orlando, Fla.; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Canton, Ohio; and Dayton, Ohio have wooed Niagara Falls with all-expenses-paid trips; Niagara Falls coach and athletic director Dan Bazzani is close to completing the arrangements for the Orlando tournament.

"Because of the success we've had, we've been invited to more places," said Bazzani. "It's another unique opportunity we can take advantage of."

The Primetime Shootout in Trenton, N.J., is also interested in having Falls back for the third straight season. One of the teams which has been mentioned as Falls' opponent is none other than Oak Hill Academy, the national superpower which has finished first in the USA Today poll the last two years.

The tough competition can only help Falls attempt another run at a state title, while Niagara Frontier League opponents will be spared games that both sides would rather avoid. Last year Falls played one game against each team in the league; this year NFL members won't be required to play Falls if they don't want to.

As he talked about planning out next season, Bazzani was told he sounded like a coach that would be coming back next year. His response was, "no, I'm talking like an athletic director." Bazzani, who originally planned to retire after next season, may not wait that long.

"(Staying on to ease the transition at a crucial time for the program) might be a little easier on everybody around, but I've run into a number of former teammates who've told me 'You're crazy if you don't go out now,' " Bazzani said. "I still enjoy it. And I've done it for so long. Nowadays at 3 p.m., I'm wandering around looking for something to do (since there is no practice). We'll see. I'm not in any hurry (to decide)."

Around the halls

Next year, there will definitely be more high school baseball being played. The state association moved back next year's postseason one week later to the second week of June, which will extend the regular season. This will help alleviate teams playing so many games late in the regular seasons, as rainouts often cause teams to play multiple games during the week.

An interesting thing to keep an eye out for during Saturday's AdPro Monsignor Martin-ECIC Challenge at Dunn Tire Park are the teams' bats. The Monsignor Martin Association outlawed aluminum bats three seasons ago, citing safety concerns. The league has gone to all wood bats, but when they play nonleague games, the opposition almost always uses aluminum. The decision is left to the individual schools.

"We're always prepared to play against aluminum bats," said Canisius coach Bryan Tenney. "We're pretty used to it by now. We scrimmaged teams in Florida and no one used wood. One team said they'd use wood, but when they fell behind, they all went back to aluminum."

One of several local baseball teams to go to Florida was Orchard Park. Coach Jim Gibson said that after a few rainy days, a local Sunshine State coach was whining about the weather. "I said, 'Coach, you've got no right to be complaining,' " Gibson recalled. "We've got 6 inches of snow on our field."

All-Western New York running back James Mallory of Kenmore West says he will attend Division I-AA Central Connecticut State University on a football scholarship. Mallory rushed for 4,531 yards as a four-year starter for the Blue Devils.
e-mail: kmcshea@buffnews.com