With five minutes and 10 seconds left, Dunkirk seemed on the verge of pulling off a huge upset in the Section VI playoffs. The Marauders led, East Aurora 50-38, in the Class B-1 boys basketball semifinal, and they had enjoyed the better of the play throughout. The situation for the Blue Devils seemed, well, if not hopeless, at the least a huge mountain to climb in a short time.
Except, they did it.
East Aurora finished the game with a 21-5 burst. The No. 1 seed in the bracket and the top-ranked team among small schools in Western New York pulled ahead in the last minute and went on to a great win.
The Blue Devils finished the game with a 59-55 victory at the Buffalo State Sports Arena that left their side euphoric and exhausted.
"The great thing is, this team easily could have put its chins in its hands in the fourth quarter," coach Chris Koselny said. "Instead they dove on the floor for loose balls, and hustled all over the court."
East Aurora advanced to the B-1 finals, which will be played at 1:45 on Saturday afternoon on the same court. The Blue Devils will face Newfane, which beat MST Seneca, 65-63. Max Weber hit a lay-up with 10 seconds left to give the Panthers the win.
For most of the game, Dunkirk refused to follow the script that said the No. 5 seed was supposed to lose bravely. The Marauders came out firing throughout the early going, hitting five three-pointers in the first half alone. They worked hard to get their share of the rebounds against taller opponents, and took relatively good care of the basketball.
"Give Dunkirk credit - they made their shots," Koselny said. "Some guys came back to the bench wondering what was going on and we told them they still had to play the game."
Davaun Farnham's early fourth-quarter baskets helped build up the lead to 13 at one point. But then East Aurora put on its press, and Dunkirk started to commit turnovers in bunches.
"We continued to try to push the ball," Dunkirk coach Jack O'Brien said., "We don't want to slow it down. That's the team we are, and unfortunately the tide turned."
Josh Denz scored on a drive to give East Aurora the lead with 43 seconds left, and Owen Smith added an insurance bucket with 26 seconds left.
Nick Montgomery led the Blue Devils with 21 points, while Cal McTigue had 16. Tyreek Ruiz led Dunkirk with 17 points.
In the second game, Newfane led for almost the entire game but couldn't put MST Seneca away. The Wolves got their first lead at 61-59 with 2:02 to play. A 18-footer by Earl Howard (22 points) tied the game with 16 seconds left. But the Panthers worked an out-of-bounds play perfectly, and Max Weber (game-high 25 points) made the lay-up to put them up by two.
"That's a designed play," coach Eric Klumpp said. "We run it three times after every practice."
Still, it wasn't over. With three seconds to go, Howard stole an inbounds pass and launched a shot from between the circles. It was about an inch long and bounced away.
"In the timeout, we told them we were going to get the ball back," coach Scott Kirsch of MST Seneca said. "We showed a lot of heart tonight."
"That was not a designed play," Klumpp said with a smile. "It certainly wasn't what we wanted, but the ball didn't go in."