St. Francis threw the Western New York boys basketball large school poll and the Monsignor Martin A League leadership up for grabs Tuesday night, knocking off No. 1 Park School, 70-66, in double overtime.
How the No. 5 ranked Red Raiders achieved their victory was as much of a story as the outcome. Frannies rallied from a 19-point halftime deficit to win on the Pioneers' home court. St. Francis got back into the game by outscoring Park, 22-5 in the third quarter to trail by only 46-44 entering the final period. Also St. Francis had two chances to win it, at the end of the first overtime and at the end of the second extra period before finally getting it done. Led by Park led 41-22 at halftime.
According to St. Francis coach Brian Ferris: "Our athletic director Steve Otremba said it was our biggest win since we won the Manhattan Cup in 1978."
That might be a slight exaggeration, but it was a remarkable victory nevertheless. Previously this season, St. Francis had knocked off the No. 1 ranked small school in WNY, Health Sciences.
St. Francis (9-3, 2-1 Monsignor Martin) scored the last five points of the opening quarter to close to 16-13 at the end of the period but Park took charge in the second with a 15-0 run. The Pioneers led by as many as 21 points in the second period and took a 41-22 lead into the break as Brandon Smith had 11 points, Joe Jones 10 and Noah Hutchins nine points to lead the onslaught. St. Francis was not done yet, however. The Red Raiders shocked Park with its aggressiveness on defense and on the boards and its outside shooting in the third.
The Red Raiders were hampered in the second quarter when Sean Taggart and forward Robert Welch, the team's two big men at 6-foot 3 each, got into foul trouble and sat out most of the period. "We went 'small' to start the period with Taggart and Welch in foul trouble, and before you know it they went on their run," Ferris said. "In the third quarter we settled down a little bit. We got those guys back, stuck to our plan and we started to believe when it became a one-possession game.
"Our guys battled and kept them out of the paint and rebounded with them in the second half." Ferris said.
Sophomore Julian "Juice" Cunningham and junior Devon Darrell led the winners with 16 points. Junior Bo Sireika had 14. Cunningham also had 10 rebounds. Connor Cummings came off the bench and contributed seven points and eight rebounds to the victory.
It was Sireika's three-pointer that put St. Francis in front, 63-60, at the start of the second OT. A layup by Taggart off a half-court set with just under a minute left extended the lead and Darrell made all four of his free throw attempts to put it away.
Smith had 18 points and Dan Scott 17 for Park. They made seven three-pointers between them. The 6-foot-8 Jones was held to five points in the second half and finished with 17. Hutchins had 12. Scott was the only Park scorer in the third quarter, getting all five of the Pioneers' points.
It was the first Monsignor Martin loss for Park (9-2, 3-1 league). Each team in Monsignor Martin League A has at least one loss now.