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Willie Lightfoot provides unforgettable moment leading Niagara Falls to regionals

The game is long over, but the moment will live on until another scholastic basketball player does something as special as Willie Lightfoot did the last time he set foot on the court.

The freshman guard helped turn what appeared to be certain defeat into a sensational comeback and overtime victory during a 39-point performance last Saturday. He scored 20 consecutive points for Niagara Falls in a 72-64 decision against Williamsville North that secured the Wolverines’ fourth straight Class AA sectional championship.

During his scoring spree, Lightfoot drained a 3-pointer with seven-tenths of a second left to force OT and scored what proved to be the go-ahead basket with 2:30 left in overtime. He made steals that led to baskets. He wowed the masses at Buffalo State to the point where one couldn’t help but wonder when the last time something like that happened was.

These aren't identical, but here are just a few of the many moments that are still unforgettable (in no particular order):

Dominick Welch’s record-setting night. On Feb. 28, 2017, Welch set the Western New York record for career points in boys basketball (2,376) when he passed Ritchie Campbell’s total of 2,355 before a standing-room only crowd that included Campbell. Welch came into the game needing 25 points. The Cheektowaga star poured in a game-high 45 points — including a 23-point third quarter in a semifinal loss to South Park.

Mansa Habeeb goes for 40. Habeeb willed McKinley past an exceptional Williamsville South team featuring Marc Coppola and Phil Stasiak in the 2009 Class A-1 final. It was a fast-paced game, but there was no stopping Habeeb from scoring whenever his team needed a basket. The senior banked in a shot to force overtime and made another-game-extending hoop late in the first overtime of a triple-overtime win.

Zack Panebianco of Jamestown pours in 34 points. The junior put on an incredible show to lead the Red Raiders past Greece Athena in a Far West Regional game at Buffalo State in 2014. He was 10-for-20 from the field, including 4-for-6 on three-pointers.

But Lightfoot is a freshman and not an upperclassman?

High School Extra: Lightfoot, Philarom are Athletes of the Week

“Haven’t seen an individual performance in the playoffs like that since another superstar Falls guard Jonny Flynn went crazy against — funny enough — against Williamsville North in their gym in the 2006 Class AA quarterfinals,” said David Universal, a longtime pollster for the New York State Sportswriters Association.

“I’ve been around a lot of basketball and that was probably the most special performance I’ve seen by an individual,” said Wolverines coach Sal Constantino, who has coached Falls greats such as former NBA lottery pick Flynn and Paul Harris. “Willie just took it to another level, one that few guys can reach. It’s amazing he’s only a ninth-grader.”

A ninth-grader about to participate in his second consecutive New York State Public High School Athletic Association tournament.

Niagara Falls versus Section V champion McQuaid at tiny Greece Athena High School (fans better get there early before the 1,000-seat venue sells out) serves as the 8:15 p.m. nightcap of five NYSPHSAA state quarterfinal/Far West Regional games Saturday pitting Buffalo-area Section VI’s champions against Rochester-area counterparts. The action is divided into two sessions.

The first is a three-game block that begins at 11 a.m. with Middle Early College meeting Section V champion C.G. Finney in Class C. At 12:45, it’s Olean against V-Greece Odyssey with the Class A regional between Lewiston-Porter and V-Pittsford Mendon following at 2:30 p.m. The nighttime two-game block begins at 6:30 p.m., featuring Class D champion Panama against V-Belfast.

While the boys Section VI champs are on the road looking to keep state title hopes alive, Section VI’s girls champions play Section V’s champions in Far West Regionals at Buffalo State. The five-game slate begins with Class AA at 11 a.m. and concludes with Class A at 7 p.m.

In the New York State Catholic High Schools Athletic Association postseason, defending champion Park School faces Monsignor Farrell in the boys Class A final at 1 p.m. Saturday at Fordham University in the Bronx. In Class B, Cardinal O’Hara faces Regis at 11 a.m. at Fordham.

Cardinal O’Hara (Class AA), Sacred Heart (Class A) and Christian Central (Class B) began the girls state Catholic playoffs with semifinals Friday night. The winners advanced to title games that wrap up the five-game slate at Fordham on Saturday.

While Lightfoot shined for Falls in victory, he wasn’t the only Wolverine to make an impact. Jaemon Turner added 16 points, Jalen Bradberry drew a key charge and played well defensively. Lightfoot’s offense included some fine defensive plays that led to some offensive opportunities — something Constantino hopes the team noticed.

The defense had been a work in progress, surprisingly for the Wolverines, until the final seven minutes of the Class AA final.

“I think it proves the point when we’re playing hard defensively it energizes us on both ends of the court,” Constantino said.

Will that be enough for Falls to finally get past a Section V champion, which has blocked its path to the state Final Four the past three seasons?

“We’re very excited to be back in this position,” Constantino said. “If we’re shooting it well, we’ll be tough to beat, but we have to make plays.”

SATURDAY'S SCHEDULE

BOYS BASKETBALL

NYSPHSAA FAR WEST REGIONALS

At Greece Athena

Class AA

Niagara Falls vs. V-McQuaid, 8:15

Class A

Lewiston-Porter vs. V-Pittsford-Mendon, 2:30

Class B

Olean vs. V-Greece Odyssey, 12:45

Class C

Middle College vs. V-C.G. Finney, 11 a.m.

Class D

Panama vs. V-Belfast, 6:30 p.m.

NYSCHSAA CHAMPIONSHIPS

At Fordham University

Class A

Park vs. Monsignor Farrell, 1

Class B

Cardinal O'Hara vs. Regis, 11

GIRLS BASKETBALL

NYSPHSAA FAR WEST REGIONALS

At Buffalo State

Class AA

V-Bishop Kearney vs. Frontier, 11

Class A

V-Pittsford Mendon vs. Lake Shore, 7

Class B

V-Midlakes vs. East Aurora, 5

Class C

V-Oakfield-Alabama vs. Maple Grove, 3

Class D

V-Elba vs. Franklinville, 1

NYSCHSAA

At Fordham University

Class AA

O'Hara/Monsignor Scanlan winner vs. Christ the King/St. Anthony winner, 7

Class A

Sacred Heart/Cardinal Spellman winner vs. St. John's Prep/St. John the Baptist winner, 5

Class B

Christian Central/Aquinas winner vs. Cristo Rey Brooklyn/Holy Trinity winner, 3

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