It's not uncommon to see girls basketball players have four-, five- or sometimes six-year varsity careers.
That's rarely the case on the boys side, yet Niagara Falls coach Sal Constantino has no reservations starting a pair of eighth-graders on a team seeking its third straight sectional title.
Willie Lightfoot scored a game-high 16 points and Roddy Gayle added 12 as top-seeded Niagara Falls (18-4) clawed out a 48-39 win over a familiar face in No. 4 Jamestown (11-11) in the Class AA semifinals at Buffalo State Thursday night.
"They're talent-wise beyond their years," Constantino said. "Roddy has a really nice head for the game. You see the one time he steps in, he takes a charge, and Willie, the game's coming to him. As a point guard, it's a lot on him.
"I think the biggest plus with both of those guys is they're so coachable. ... They don't put their head down when you say we should've kicked that pass. They don't put it down and take it the wrong way. They got bright futures ahead of them."
Next up for the Wolverines is No. 3 Williamsville North (15-7) in Saturday's 3:30 p.m. championship back at Buffalo State.
The Spartans topped No. 7 Orchard Park (10-12) in an overtime thriller, 65-64, to cap Thursday night's doubleheader.
Senior Ryan Johnston (16 points) tied the game at 55-55 on a layup with five seconds left in regulation and also scored North's first six points of the extra period to offset a pair of Orchard Park three-pointers.
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Junior Jonathan Abaya (18 points, eight rebounds) gave the Spartans a 63-61 lead with 37 seconds left before Dave Morris (16 points) nailed a corner three for OP's last points. Abaya was sent to the line with 3.2 seconds on the clock and converted both free throws to send North to its first sectional final since 2009, when it lost to Niagara Falls.
"Wow is all I can say." Spartans coach Chuck Swierski said. "This is my 15th year coaching, and I played basketball for an awful long time before then, and I can't think of a whole lot of games that was played by two teams that wanted to win so badly.
"I told them that I could not be more proud of those kids, even if they were my own sons just because they're just such a pleasure to work with kids like this who have character and talent and heart," Swierski added, getting emotional. "I know it's only a semifinal game, but the fact that this is only our third final I think in the history of Williamsville North basketball ... wow."
Brett Swiech scored 14 points for North, including 12 from beyond the arc. Nate Wereski made four of Orchard Park's 10 three-pointers as part of his 18 points. Teammate Josh McTigue added 12 points.
In the first game, Niagara Falls closed the opening stanza on a 16-2 run after Jamestown scored the first four points. Lightfoot and Gayle combined for Falls' first 13 points, and Josiah Harris hit the team's fourth three-pointer of the quarter at the buzzer.
The Wolverines began the second quarter on a 9-1 run to extend their lead to 25-7 before Matt Hill (13 points) knocked down his first of three treys for Jamestown. Falls scored the next four points, but the Red Raiders ended the half on a 9-2 run to make it 31-19 at half.
Jamestown negated Niagara Falls' transition game coming out of the half, as the offensive pace slowed down in the Red Raiders' favor. Marcus Rojas (11 points) had the first basket 1:48 in, and then Lightfoot snapped a six-minute Falls scoring drought a minute later with his third three of the game.
The Red Raiders won a low-scoring third quarter, 8-6, to bring its deficit down to 37-27. Nine straight points to start the fourth quarter pulled the Red Raiders within 39-36 with 4:02 on the clock. Coming out of a timeout, Niagara Falls upped its pressure defense and ended the game on a 9-3 run.
"That's our go-to," Constantino said. "We don't rely on Sal's plays, let me tell you that right now. We wouldn't be standing here talking right now. We rely on their ability, their share-ability ... and when they're playing like that and they're just so aggressive and wanting to guard and taking pride in defense, we're a good team."