Williamsville North coach Chuck Swierski walked into the locker room before Friday night’s Class AA quarterfinal, and he asked his team a favor.
The coach told his team that he had never beaten Niagara Falls in his 10 years coaching the Spartans.
“I said ‘let’s win this game and scratch that one off the list.’ ”
His team did just that, using a 31-17 second quarter to all but settle things by halftime as second-seeded North rolled to an 84-63 home victory over seventh-seeded Niagara Falls before an estimated 400.
“We hadn’t beaten this team – ever,” said senior Kolbe Hughes, who scored 17 points and had 10 rebounds. “We knew this time was going to be different.”
Senior standout Sterling Taplin, a two-time first-team All-Western New York selection, led North with 20 points, 10 assists and five steals. Taplin, a five-year varsity player, now has 1,858 career points, good for 23rd on the all-time Western New York scoring list after he passed the 1,855 of 1991 Turner-Carroll grad Damone James.
“I can’t be more proud of how they played,” Swierski said. “Kolbe was unbelievable, and Sterling was Sterling.”
Williamsville North (14-4) earned a berth in the Class AA final four at Buffalo State with the victory, which came on a Quarterfinal Friday in which 32 Section VI games determined the final four participants at Buffalo State and Jamestown Community College.
Williamsville North will play third-seed Clarence at 6 p.m. Monday at Buffalo State before top-seeded Jamestown meets fourth-seeded Lockport at 7:45 p.m. The games, traditionally held on Thursday of Championship Week at Buffalo State, were moved to Monday this year. The winners play for the title at 8:15 p.m. on March 1 at Buffalo State.
“It means a lot,” to get to Buffalo State, Taplin said. “Especially for my last year.”
Niagara Falls, which has uncharacteristically struggled this season with a team that has just one senior, three freshmen and an eighth-grader, had trouble early taking care of the ball against North’s pressure.
The Spartans took a 20-13 lead after one quarter and stretched it out in the second by repeatedly getting in passing lanes and turning them into layups.
The Wolverines (6-12) were led by 5-7 sophomore Breon Harris, who had five three-pointers among his 21 points.
Junior Dylan Lambert had 14 points while sophomore Maceo Jack had 13.
“Our mind-set was to get them to play our style of basketball and try and break our press,” said Hughes. “We got steals and got most of our points with our press.”
The Spartans suffered two of their four losses in their first two games of the season, against Bishop Timon-St. Jude and Clarence. North had several football players who were late in fully joining the basketball team, including Hughes, after the football team surprised many by making the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class AA championship game.
“Our team is playing much better now than at the beginning of the year,” said Hughes. “Our big word of the year is ‘finish,’ just like in football. We’re looking at this as how it was in football: We’re going into the playoffs, and not many people are going to be on our side, but we’re going to keep our game and try to win.”