BY MICHAEL MROZIAK
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — KENMORE — After the emotional rollercoaster which was Niagara Falls High School's 64-58 double overtime win over Kenmore West in girls basketball, Ken West head coach Michael Licata stood in his locker room coming down from the emotions of a game he deemed an instant classic. If only more than the estimated 100 fans were there to see it.
"I made the parallel to the kids, I said the Duke-Syracuse game on Saturday night was one of those games for the ages. As far as women's basketball is concerned, I think what we witnessed out there was one of those games for the ages," said Licata.
He also likened to game to a hockey fight, where the combatants trade punch after punch. This game wasn't such a violent spectacle but it was a physical contest with the Wolverines' Victoria Pryor and Ken West's Katie Proy trading the most blows in terms of scoring. Pryor scored 19 points, including two 3-pointers and five free throws, while Proy led the Blue Devils with 22 points, with only two of them coming from the free-throw line.
The win improved the Wolverines' Niagara Frontier League record to 11-0 and sets them up for a championship showdown with Lockport. The Blue Devils fell to 8-3 in the NFL.
"We knew it would be difficult," said Niagara Falls head coach Michael Esposito. "Our girls put in a tremendous amount of heart."
Niagara Falls spread out its offense with a 14-point performance by Ijon'Ana Laster and 12-point games by Bianca Brown and Toni Polk. Polk scored only four points from the field and didn't rack up her free throws until overtime. She sank her shots from the stripe when it most mattered, in the second extra session. But she also came up big defensively, making leaps that tipped passes and created turnovers.
"My hat goes off to Toni Polk," said Licata. "There were passes that were on the way that she just was able athletically to do things that I don't see most girls around here do."
"She wouldn't let us lose," said Esposito. "Another player that stepped up, Ijon'Ana Laster, had a couple of big shots. Bianca (Brown) had the big three in the second overtime."
After Niagara Falls jumped out to a 9-3 lead midway through the first quarter, Ken West caught up with a basket followed by two consecutive 3-pointers from Grace Ferguson. At the end of the first, the Wolverines led 14-11. Ken West kept pace and outscored its guests 14-13 in the second quarter to head into halftime trailing by just two points.
After both teams could produce only seven points in the third quarter, the stage was set for some exciting back-and-forth scoring and late drama. After Ken West scored from 3-point range with just over two minutes remaining, Pryor drove right to the basket to try and preserve her team's lead. However, she was called on an offensive charge, her fifth foul of the game, sending her to the bench and setting up Samantha Britton to score the game-tying basket for the Blue Devils.
After both sides scored just six points in the first overtime, Niagara Falls opened the second overtime with Brown's 3-pointer. When the Blue Devils trailed by just one with 58.8 seconds left, Proy fouled out of the game. While Ken West's top scorer was no longer available, Licata felt he still had options, including Britton, who finished the game with 12 points.
"That was a blow but we still felt that we could use Sam," he said.
Next up for Niagara Falls' girls hoops team is a shot at its first NFL title since 1991.
"We're really looking forward to that game," said Esposito. "Hopefully the girls will have a little left after this game, with double overtime, but we're going to be ready for Lockport and they're going to be ready for us."
How does Esposito keep his girls grounded after such an emotional high Tuesday night?
"It's going to be tough. We've just got to try talking. The next game's for the NFL championship, so we've got to get ready for that one."