Michael Battaglia grew up a fan watching the full-court pressure defense of old Niagara Falls High School. The Park School coach loved how the Power Cats’ athletes wore down opponents and created instant offense with the defensive tactic.
The Pioneers aren’t masters of that style yet but one can easily see they’re fans of it.
They showed off their version of relentless, in-your-face defense Saturday night during the penultimate contest of the annual ADPRO Public/Private Schools Challenge as The News’ No. 1 Large School routed eighth-ranked Cheektowaga, 98-49, at Depew High School.
Park’s triumph is among the highlights for members of the Monsignor Martin High School Athletic Association, which got the better of their foes by winning seven of the nine matchups during the annual three-day event that showcases the top talents from the area’s public and private schools.
In the final game, Canisius pulled away from Jamestown, 56-42, in a contest between perennial Western New York powers. Saturday’s early results had St. Francis defeating Kenmore West 67-50, while Depew remained unbeaten with a 64-47 victory over Christian Central.
Circumstance earned a pair of surprising wins during the showcase as inclement weather resulted in the cancelation of Thursday’s Niagara Falls-Rochester game. A bus issue led to Saturday’s opening contest between Olean Walsh and Fredonia also being scratched.
Park (3-0) gave a hint of the full-court pressure defense it has been preparing to use this season during its last game, springing it by surprise on East in the third quarter. The Pioneers, who have a nice blend of size and athleticism, went full-throttle from the get go Saturday.
Noah Hutchins set the tone early when he stole the ball from All-Western New York First Team returnee Dominick Welch on a drive, going the other way for the game’s opening basket (and dunk – one of eight by the two teams).
That theft was one of 22 steals by Park, with Hutchins making a team-high seven. Sophomore Daniel Scott finished with six steals. He finished with 22 points as six of eight Pioneers scored in double-figures.
Our players “are finally accepting this is what they have to do because this is what makes us most effective,” said Battaglia of the team’s defensive plan. “This group is very intelligent. … It makes it easier to teach them.”
The Warriors (1-3) had an early 6-5 lead but the Pioneers seized control by scoring 12 straight points with Scott scoring four of them.
Park’s 6-foot-9 Joe Jones had 18 points, 14 rebounds, two blocks and a steal. Cheektowaga’s Welch scored 21 points during the first three quarters, sitting out most of the fourth with the game no longer in doubt.
Meanwhile points were harder to come by during the Canisius-Jamestown game. That’s expected since both teams have a reputation for being strong defensively. They lived up to that billing with several players taking hard charges. Canisius led 21-17 at halftime.
The second-ranked Crusaders (3-0) pulled away during an 18-10 third quarter in which they hit some outside shots. Newcomer Austin James scored 11 of his team-high 17 in the period, hitting three three-pointers. The first trey sparked a 17-5 blitz he capped with a three.
“Austin’s a really talented player. When he gets going he’s tough to stop,” Canisius coach Kyle Husband said. “We’ve got to get better offensively but we always take pride in what we do on the defensive end and it showed tonight.”
Jayce Johnson and Nick MacDonald each had 11 points for the Crusaders, who withstood a 26-point effort from Jamestown (1-1) star James Rojas.
Whenever Kenmore West threatened to make a game of it, either Roburt Welch or Bo Sirieka scored to spark St. Francis runs that blunted the Blue Devils’ momentum. They combined for 36 points with Sirieka scoring 16 of his 20 during the opening half.
When Tyler Aquilina’s trey tied the game at 20 early in the second quarter, Welch – the cousin of the Cheektowaga star, scored seven points during a 9-0 run that gave the Red Raiders (5-1) the lead for good. After Aquilina (23 points) hit another three to pull Ken West (2-3) within five early in the third quarter, Sireika’s layup sparked a closing 19-5 run that settled matters. Julian Cunningham added 15 points for St. Francis.
“If we get double-digits from our big three, we’ll be tough to beat,” Red Raiders coach Brian Ferris said. “I’m happy with how we’re playing. We’re sharing the basketball. All five of our starters have led us in scoring (in a game this season).”
Depew improved to 4-0 for the first time since 2009 by rebounding from an early 11-5 deficit, holding CCA to just two second-quarter field goals en route to a 34-28 halftime lead. Chad Biersbach nailed three treys in the quarter as he scored 11 of his game-high 21 during the opening 16 minutes and also finished with 18 rebounds. Eric Jarrett added 13 points for Depew.
“We were trying to be a little more patient and were a little tentative,” Depew coach Larry Jones said of the opening quarter. “At the start of the second quarter we went back to just taking the first good shot we saw and started to play better.”