Cheektowaga is headed back to Buffalo State, thanks to a fourth quarter worthy of a defending champion.
The Warriors, last year’s winners of the Section VI Class A-2 championship, are headed back to the final four after a Quarterfinal Friday victory in which they got big baskets from their big players and hit their free throws in a final quarter that began with them leading by only two.
Cheektowaga, the fourth seed in Class A-2, won an up-and-down battle with fifth-seeded Lew-Port, 64-51, before a nearly packed Cheektowaga Central gym on a Friday night in which Section VI determined its 32 semifinalists who will take the main stage during Championship Week at Buffalo State and Jamestown Community College.
Sophomore standout big man Dominick Welch had 23 points while senior sharpshooting guard Zak Ciezki had 18 as the Warriors proved too much for Lew-Port in a 22-11 fourth quarter in which Cheektowaga went 10 of 13 at the foul line.
“We just had to work together and play defense and just execute,” said Welch. “We wanted to get back to Buff State real bad.”
“In that fourth quarter, we told them we had to win it convincingly, we had to leave no doubt,” said Cheektowaga coach Pat Cullinan. “We responded. That was huge.”
Cheektowaga (16-4) will play in the semifinals at 7:45 p.m. Thursday at Buffalo State. Its opponent will be ECIC III rival and top-seeded Amherst, which routed visiting Iroquois, 75-50, on Friday. Amherst, which defeated Cheektowaga twice in the regular season (by 1 and 10 points), is ranked fourth in The News large school poll; Cheektowaga is tied for 10th with Starpoint.
The semifinal will also be a rematch of last year’s A-2 final, in which Welch and Ciezki helped lead Cheektowaga to an overtime win over the Tigers.
On Friday, Cheektowaga looked like it would have no problem moving on to Championship Week as it jumped to a 9-0 lead in a 25-7 first quarter that included eight points and two highlight jams from Welch (one two-hander, one one-hander) along with seven points from Ciezki, including a three.
Lew-Port got back into the game with a 23-10 second quarter which was closed with a 12-0 run, punctuated by junior Janard Jackson hitting the shot of the game. Jackson hit a running-leaning-banking three-pointer that he released while airborne, having leaped from beyond the arc, which had Lew-Port’s sizeable “Green Machine” student section bouncing in the bleachers after the horn.
In the third, both teams seemed to play tight, as if they realized what was on the line. Cheektowaga’s lead was down to 42-40 after senior Colton Stollard’s drive in the final minute.
But the Warriors would never surrender the lead. The 6-4 Welch wore down Lew-Port inside despite a tough performance by its frontcourt, including 6-4 junior Donald Allendar (10 points).
Welch earned two trips to the line and went 4 for 4, while Ciezki was 5 of 7 to help Cheektowaga start the fourth with a 13-4 run that put it up, 55-44, with 3:42 to play.
“It’s my role on the team – they always count on me,” said Welch. “I have to make sure I do it and get the job done.”
The Lancers (12-9), who were 5 of 13 at the line, were led by senior Craig Paige’s 15 points while senior Jordan Willard added 11.