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Will North books a trip to Buffalo State; Spartans' seniors step up in last quarter

Williamsville North has been involved in close losses all year. It finally was on the right side of one, and at the perfect time.

Sophomore standout Sterling Taplin had 19 points, but it was seniors Justin Bangert and Nick Konotopskyj who had huge fourth quarters to help the Spartans, unranked all season in The News large school poll, win at No. 6 Kenmore West, 56-55, before an estimated 500 in West's gym.

Bangert scored 10 of his 12 points in the fourth while Konotopskyj scored all nine of his in the final quarter for Williamsville North (13-7), which lost five games by four points or fewer this season.

"I told the kids before the game, we've been in close games and Kenmore West is just rolling through everybody," said Williamsville North coach Chuck Swierski. "I was hoping that as bad as those experiences were for us, that we learned from them -- and enough's enough and it's our turn to catch a break. Down the stretch, Sterling made a huge defensive play, and our seniors -- Konotopskyj and Bangert, I can't say enough about them, because they're such good kids."

Williamsville North, seeded sixth while West (16-3) was seeded third, advances to Buffalo State for Thursday's Class AA semifinals, where it will face Niagara Falls at 6 p.m.

"I was talking to my buddy Bangert today, and he said, 'No matter what Sterling, I need you get to get us to Buff State,' " Taplin said. "But I told them that I needed them to get me to Buff State. People said that 'They're only the Williamsville North Taplins,' but we're a whole team."

Taplin only scored two of his points in the second half -- on two free throws in the third quarter -- but he came up with a tremendous defensive play in the final minute.

Bangert followed a missed Taplin drive to give North its 56-55 lead with just under one minute to play. The teams exchanged turnovers and Ken West had the ball with 16.6 seconds left. Senior Mike Wilcox raised the ball up and Taplin got his hands on it to rip it away for a steal. Taplin was fouled with 3.4 seconds to play. He missed the front end of a one-and-one trip. Martin Bailey got the ball, but the senior's heave from just inside midcourt on the right side hit only backboard.

"All the seniors, we all said, 'We've got to get this done,' " said Konotopskyj. "Stepping up in that fourth quarter was so rewarding and something I'll never forget."

The game was close throughout, with North holding slight leads after the first quarter (14-12) and halftime (28-27). Kenmore West got a three-pointer from Wilcox in the final seconds of the third to take a 41-37 lead into the fourth. Bangert scored on a nice baseline move and then scored off a fine pass from Taplin to start the fourth, tying the game at 41-41. The teams exchanged the lead in a very entertaining final quarter in which neither team led by more than three.

Bailey had 15 for Kenmore West while junior Quinton Campbell had 14.

"It's a dream come true," said Bangert. "I've been waiting since my freshman year to get here, and it's finally here -- time to go to Buff State."