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Niagara Falls boys get chance to step up to the plate again

How does a basketball team unwind from one of its biggest victories of the season and prepare to win an even more meaningful game?

Wiffle ball, anyone?

Niagara Falls boys coach Sal Constantino thought about giving his club an extra day off before preparing for Far West Regionals but opted to have the Wolverines show up at the gym Monday. Instead of installing the game plan for the daunting task that awaits them Saturday night, he opted to have the kids participate in a fun activity before shifting focus on Section V Class AA champion Aquinas.

Who won the intersquad game? The coach.

“I don’t have to worry about these guys going out for baseball after the season,” said Constantino. “I was the pitcher and I felt like Clayton Kershaw. Some of those guys couldn’t hit a ball if they tried.”

That’s OK. Falls has reached this point for the first time since 2012 because of its ability to shoot, pass, rebound and steal the ball - not hit it. The Wolverines’ defense has for the most part frustrated opponents all season, including recent victim Jamestown whose three-year sectional championship title reign came to an end after Falls held the Red Raiders to their second lowest point output of the season (44).

The Wolverines yield 47.1 points per game. In the postseason, they’ve lowered the total to 41.0 ppg. “I think we’re ready,” Constantino said. “Our nonleague schedule has prepared us for this moment.”

Last time these teams met in the 2012 FWR, current Canisius College teammates Jermaine Crumpton (Falls) and Phil Valenti (Aquinas) were heated adversaries.

Niagara Falls (18-5) versus Aquinas (21-3) is the last of five Far West Regional games that will be played Saturday at the Buffalo State Sports Arena.

The smorgasbord of playoff action begins at noon with the Class D regional between Panama and Section V champion C.G. Finney, a private school. Middle Early College faces V-Early College International in Class C at 1:45 p.m. Olean meets V-Wellsville at 3:30 p.m. in Class B. The evening session begins at 7 p.m. with the Class A regional between Williamsville South and V-Batavia.

While Section VI’s boys champions have home court for regionals this year, the area’s girls public schools champions head to Rush-Henrietta High School on Saturday looking to build on last year’s record-setting performance.

The five-game set begins with Class B at 11 a.m. as Olean takes on V-Livonia. The Class A, AA, C and D regional games follow.

After being pushovers to Rochester’s champions in this round for years, Section VI gained a measure of revenge last winter by winning four of the five games. Still, Section V holds a 97-55 all-time advantage in the regional round, including a 14-6 edge the past four seasons.

There’s a good chance Lake Shore isn’t paying attention to those numbers. That’s because the young Eagles, who start three eighth-graders and have a fourth who sees regular time, are too busy listening to their coaches, something that paid dividends Wednesday night when they rallied from a 15-point deficit to defeat defending state Class A champion Williamsville South, 58-54.

“They just kept playing and one of the things we told them earlier when we were preparing for the game is not look at the scoreboard,” Lake Shore coach Andrea Conrad said. “We’ll keep looking at the scoreboard and adjusting. … I think they were listening. I think that they just knew they were doing well and edging closer as the intensity in the gym got higher. You could almost feel it in waves. It’s great.”

The Eagles ended the game on an 18-2 run to reach this point in the postseason for the first time since Conrad’s freshman year as a player back in 1996. Noelani Cornfield led the Eagles with 17 points, while fellow eighth-grader Sophie Snyder scored Lake Shore’s final six points.

While Lake Shore has achieved its goal of advancing one step further than it did last year, it’s still hungry even though the Eagles will be at a size disadvantage against Mercy, which starts two 6-footers up front.

The party will just get started though, should unbeaten Williamsville North (23-0) find a way to take down Penfield in Class AA. Section VI has never won the Class AA regional contest against Rochester.

In the New York State Catholic High School Athletic Association playoffs, defending Class A Federation champion Canisius (24-2) faces Long Island’s St. Anthony’s (22-5) at 1 p.m. Saturday at St. John the Baptist. The Crusaders advanced to their second straight Catholic state tournament by defeating Park, 60-58, in overtime Sunday behind Justin Jones’ Manhattan Cup MVP performance and Stafford Trueheart’s 15 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks.


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