Fifth-year St. Francis boys basketball coach Brian Ferris did not know until earlier this week just how many games in a row his school had lost to old friend Bishop Timon-St. Jude.
He and the rest of the Red Raiders won't have to rack their brains about the last time they beat their Monsignor Martin High School Athletic Association rival any more. That's because Frannies ended that streak and earned another eye-opening victory in the process.
Senior Roburt Welch scored nine of his 23 points during the fourth quarter as St. Francis held off several rally attempts by the visiting Tigers to earn a 69-62 victory before more than 500 fans.
Welch's big night along with contributions from several others wearing the white and red enabled the News' second-ranked large school to record a win over Timon for the first time since 2010 and snap a 0-14 string against their Southtowns rival.
"It was a great experience," said Welch, who also led St. Francis with nine rebounds and three blocks.
"We've been looking at this one on the schedule for a while," said Ferris, whose team has dropped three overtime decisions to the Tigers during his tenure as head coach. "It's a nice feeling to be able to pull one out against them."
The win also capped a 10-day stretch of games against top Western New York programs for Frannies. St. Francis dropped a decision on its home court to News No. 3 Large School Williamsville South on Tuesday. That followed up last week's attention-getting double overtime win at former state No. 1 Park – a contest in which the Red Raiders trailed by 19 at the half. Timon entered Friday's game ranked fourth among large schools in the area and with a win over league rival and two-time defending state Catholic Class A champion Canisius.
Welch played a big role in the Red Raiders (10-4, 4-1) being able to experience the taste of victory Friday. He scored 10 points during the second quarter, including five during a 12-0 run that enabled St. Francis to surge ahead for good. Timon led, 13-11, before Sean Taggert sparked the run with a putback.
Welch went 5 of 6 from the line late in the fourth quarter after missing two free throws earlier in the quarter. After Timon (9-4, 3-2) pulled within 61-59 on Tim Payne's layup with 35 seconds left, the Tigers fouled Welch even though he didn't have the ball. The referee called an intentional foul to give St. Francis two free throws and possession. Welch calmly drained both shots to extend the lead. Taggert then followed with two free throws.
That capped a tough ending for Timon as each time it trimmed its deficit to one possession, the Red Raiders responded with either a key basket or stop to thwart the run.
The final time that happened: Julian Cunningham's three-pointer with 1:51 left gave St. Francis a 61-55 lead after Timon had been called for a charge on its possession.
"We had some guys step up whether it was getting a key rebound or a charge or a three-pointer," Ferris said. "And we hit our free throws at the end. It's a great thing as a coach being able to have a different guy step up."
"When the game got close we just play as hard as we can," Welch said. "When we needed to make clutch plays, we made clutch plays."
Cunningham finished with 12 points and five assists, while Bo Sireka also had 12 points for St. Francis. Taggert finished with eight rebounds and two blocks as he patrolled the paint most of the night on defense to make it difficult for the Tigers to drive to the basket. The Red Raiders' other four defenders played man-to-man while Taggert guarded the middle.
Davion Warren finished with 23 points and 13 rebounds for Timon, which played its third game in four nights on Friday – a stretch that started with Tuesday's win over top-ranked small school Health Sciences.
"High school kids, it's hard to get them up mentally that many games in a row … (but) in our league it's not an excuse," Tigers coach Des Randall said. "You have to be able to do it."
Joe Harrison added 20 points, draining four three-pointers, for Timon.
St. Francis hits the road for a contest at Niagara Catholic on Monday. That same day, the Tigers have another tough road test visiting ninth-ranked small school St. Mary's of Lancaster.
Police defused a minor situation in which St. Francis fans and Timon players gathered together after the game.
According to David Universal of the New York State Sportswriters Association, he said a St. Francis fan appeared to taunt Timon players. Police and coaches quickly diffused the situation. No punches were thrown.