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Championship Week Awards: Niagara Falls' Willie Lightfoot had performances to remember

Willie Lightfoot may be a freshman, but the Niagara Falls point guard already has five scholarship offers with more on the horizon.

Lightfoot showed why he is a courted talent with one of the best individual performances during Championship Week at SUNY Buffalo State.

Simply put, Lightfoot willed Niagara Falls back from the brink of defeat to a 72-64 overtime win over Williamsville North in the Section VI Class AA final for its fourth straight sectional title. In the process, he laid the groundwork to being named MVP for the 18th annual Prep Talk Shining Moments column.

With the Wolverines trailing by 11 points with less than four minutes left, Lightfoot’s refuse-to-lose attitude took over. He scored the Wolverines’ final 13 points of regulation, and drained the game-tying 3-pointer at the buzzer after the Spartans elected not to foul in the closing seconds. Lightfoot scored 32 of his game-high 39 points after halftime and scored 20 straight points.

“I didn’t want to go home,” Lightfoot said after the performance.

“He showed ... why he's special,” Falls coach Sal Constantino said. “He really took the game over at a time that we really needed him.”

That wasn't the only time Lightfoot took charge as the Wolverines made their way to the state semifinals. However, the run doesn’t happen without the comeback.

Niagara Falls' comeback also provided the slam-dunk choice for best moment of Championship Week. Watching Lightfoot go off was reminiscent of seeing Dominick Welch score 23 of 26 points for Cheektowaga during the third quarter of the 2017 Class A-2 semifinals. Welch finished with 45 points in what turned out to be his last high school game, breaking the Western New York record for career points by a boys basketball player.

Here are the rest of the Championship Week award winners.

Best game

Boys: Lightfoot provides the three-for-one deal: MVP. Best moment, and he clearly took part in the best game of Championship Week. Though Lightfoot gets most of the credit for leading the comeback, others played key roles, too, including Jalen Bradberry drawing a charge to send Jonathon Abaya, North’s most effective post player, to the bench with five fouls.

Honorable mention: Middle Early College rallying from a 19-point third-quarter deficit to defeat Rochester private school C.G. Finney, 64-60, in a state Class C quarterfinal at Greece Athena High School.

Lake Shore's Noelani Cornfield knocks the ball away from Amherst's Amaya Woods during the second half. (James P. McCoy/Buffalo News)

Girls: Lake Shore defeating Amherst, 67-62, to win its first Section VI Class A-2 title since 2016. The Eagles twice rallied from double-digit deficits, including one by 11 points in the third quarter. Tashawni Cornfield poured in a game-high 26 points and made four pressure-packed free throws in the final 30 seconds. Twin sister Noelani added 12 points while Sophie Snyder had 14, including six during the final quarter, as Lake Shore got the better of Amherst after suffering sectional semifinals losses to the Tigers in each of the previous two seasons.

Honorable mention: Franklinville defeating Panama, 54-53, in the Section VI Class D final, aka the de facto state championship game. Arianna Wolfer deflected a Panama inbounds pass with a few seconds left, and the ball winded up in the hands of Franklinville’s Dani Haskell, who dribbled out the clock.

Haskell-Franklinville-Elba-Far West Rigional-Class D-Championship-Buffalo State-Scull-Girls Basketball

Franklinville guard Dani Haskell celebrates with teammates during a Far Western Regional Class D Championship win over Elba. (Harry Scull Jr./News file photo)

Girls best moment: After suffering its only loss of the season in overtime in the state final in 2018, a younger but extremely resilient Franklinville team returned to the Class D final. Behind Haskell’s 40-point, 11-rebound performance, the Panthers defeated Fort Edwards-Knox, 61-47, to become the first Section VI girls team since 2015 to win a state title.

All-Championship Week

Boys first team: Lightfoot, Roddy Gayle (Lew-Port), Michael Schmidt (Olean), Noah Hutchins (Park), Adrian Baugh (West Seneca West)

Boys second team: Cal Shifflet (Williamsville East), Jacob Belote (Williamsville North), Ja’Kari Nettles (Middle Early College), Jamond Jones (MEC), Tyler Hind (Randolph)

Girls MVP: Haskell, who averaged 33.5 points per game in Franklinville’s final four playoff wins.

Girls first team: Haskell, Tashawni Cornfield (Lake Shore), Sarah Tully (East Aurora), Claire Kruszka (Frontier), Angel Parker (Cardinal O’Hara)

Girls second team: Amari DeBerry (Williamsville South), Noelani Cornfield (Lake Shore), Kennedy Izzo (Frontier), Marisa Schuppenhauer (Maple Grove), Courtney Hemminger (Maple Grove)

Niagara Falls' Moran Montgomery, shown here against Lewiston-Porter, was named to the A'aron Mungro all-hustle team. (Harry Scull Jr./News file photo)

A’aron Mungro (boys) all-hustle team: Anthony Oberlander (East), Moran Montgomery (Niagara Falls), Josh Bihler (Olean), Yehshua Lee (Cardinal O’Hara), Yusuf Hashmi (Williamsville East)

Girls all-hustle team: Sophie Snyder (Lake Shore), Katie Oar (East Aurora), Katherine Jancevski (East Aurora), Erin Radack (Southwestern), Tatyjana Scalisi (Williamsville South)

Best dunk

Roddy Gayle excited folks a few times during his three games at Buffalo State, but the best came during the third quarter of a semifinal win over Cheektowaga. He dribbled down the right sideline from his side of center court, saw an opening and cut to the basket, where he threw down the one-handed jam.

Best shot

Tyler Hind of Randolph was feeling it during the Class C-2 final against Bennett at Jamestown Community College. He scored 22 of his game-high 38 points during the opening 16 minutes, capping the blitz by making a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from half court.

Best band

Niagara Falls and Panama went on deep playoff runs to the state Final Four. Unfortunately, Panama’s band did not travel with the team after killing it at JCC during the sectional final. Falls’ band, though it loses points for unceremoniously kicking me out of my assigned work space during Far West Regionals at tiny Greece Athena High School, rocked the house at Buff State, Athena and at Floyd Maines Arena in Binghamton during the state Final Four.

Winner: Niagara Falls.

Best finish

Lew-Port and Health Sciences met way too early in the tournament but their Class A-2 quarterfinal was one of the best games of the season. Both teams seemingly took the other’s best shot only to rally from double-digit deficits. Lew-Port erased one last deficit and, with the game tied at 59 with 59 seconds left, the Lancers never gave the Falcons another possession.

After a couple misfires at the win, Trent Scott’s release of an awkward leaning floating bank shot not only beat the 35-second shot clock, but hung in the air long enough to go through the hoop just before the final buzzer. Replay showed there might have been enough time (less than one second) for Health to get off a desperation shot had the Falcons called timeout after the basket. Of course, they were probably stunned Scott made the shot considering he was well-defended on the play.

What just happened? moment

That honor goes to Canisius versus St. Francis in a Class A Manhattan Cup semifinal, a game the Crusaders won in triple overtime, 70-66.

However, it appeared the Red Raiders had the game won as the seconds ticked off in the first overtime. Lucas Theisen gave the Raiders a 54-53 lead with a jumper from the elbow with 3.9 seconds left. Teammate Jack Bickerstaff then stole the inbounds pass and was fouled with 1.6 seconds left. In the euphoria of the big shot and seemingly game-clinching defensive play, a Red Raiders’ reserve celebrated on the floor, which is against the rules.

An official saw it, so too did Canisius coach Kyle Husband. The result was a technical foul that created an opening for the Crusaders to extend the game. Bickerstaff missed both free throws and Dewayne Vass made one of two to tie the game for Canisius.

Milestones

Among those to hit significant milestones during Championship Week:

  • Soon-to-be-retired Olean boys basketball coach Jeff Anastasia earned his 600th career victory during the Huskies’ win over City Honors in the Section VI Class B-1 final.
  • Allegany-Limestone boys basketball coach Glenn Anderson earned his 100th win during the Gators’ Class B-2 final win over Olmsted.
  • Erin Radack of Southwestern became the school’s all-time scoring leader.
  • Brian Baker of Wilson earned the first Frank Martin Memorial Award, named in honor of the beloved Allegany-Limestone coach who died days after leading the Gators to the state semifinals last year.
  • Trent Scott of Lew-Port hit a 3-pointer late in a season-ending loss to Pittsford Mendon to give the senior 1,000 career points.
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