Niagara Falls is back in the Class AA championship game, and it got to avenge last year’s playoff defeat in the process.
Mikey Bermudez led the Wolverines with a game-high 19 points and Breon Harris converted the necessary free throws in the final minute as Niagara Falls outlasted second-seeded Williamsville North, 63-61, in Wednesday night’s semifinal at Buffalo State.
Niagara Falls fell short of the sectional semifinals last year for just the second time this millennium, and it had Williamsville North to thank. The Spartans rolled the Wolverines in the quarterfinals, winning by 21 points and giving North coach Chuck Swierski his first win over the Falls in 10 years as coach.
So Wednesday’s victory was a bit of revenge for the third-seeded Wolverines. “They knocked us out. We said it was a rematch in the locker room,” said Niagara Falls senior Joey Medley, who scored six points and played solid defense.
“It means a lot to these guys,” Niagara Falls coach Sal Constantino added. “We had a really tough year last year. … But they’ve stuck through everything. I’m really proud and happy for these guys that they got a taste of Buff State, and now they’re gonna get a possible taste of a sectional championship.”
Niagara Falls will have its work cut out for it in the Class AA championship game, facing two-time defending Class AA champion Jamestown at 6:30 p.m. Saturday. The Red Raiders cruised in their semifinal game, beating Lancaster, 71-35, behind double-digit point totals from all five starters.
“We’ve watched them on tape a couple times,” Constantino said. “We’re gonna come roll the dice just like we did (Wednesday). We’re gonna play our tails off and at the end of the day, if you’re better than us, we’ll shake your hand. We don’t have a problem with it.”
There was no need for that Wednesday, as Niagara Falls’ hot three-point shooting made up for a shaky start.
Qeyion Williams scored 16 points and paced the team with four three-pointers as Williamsville North’s 2-3 zone couldn’t handle the Wolverines’ outside shooting. Bermudez added three triples and Harris had two.
Even Spartan coaches didn’t expect the Wolverines to shoot like that. “Honestly, no,” Swierski said. “I know we’ve heard some things that sometimes they get hot. They were all swishes, too. They didn’t get any cheap ones, any banks. Everything they got they deserved.”
Niagara Falls committed a number of early turnovers in its sloppy start, which included being six minutes late for warm-ups. “You could see how shaky we were when we first came out. You could see it was guys that had never stepped on Buff State before,” Constantino said. “We were throwing the ball to the announcer.”
North had the ball down by two with under 20 seconds left but committed a turnover on its offensive possession. A half-court shot at the buzzer was well short. Maceo Jack had a strong game with 17 points while crafty point guard Sean Hill scored 15 and Dylan Lambert had 10. But their efforts weren’t enough, and North will be watching the finals from the stands once again. Niagara Falls, meanwhile, will play for its fourth title since 2008.
“That’s a team effort,” Constantino said. “We don’t have a 30-point guy. We’re just a bunch of guys playing together, and it’s worked so far.”