By Matt Parrino
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News —
AMHERST — When Daemen women's basketball coach David Skolen scheduled a game against Philadelphia's Holy Family University, the idea was to get North Tonawanda native Sarah Pawlak a game in her hometown.
But that was before Pawlak's sister, Niagara-Wheatfield graduate Rachel Pawlak, signed on to play at Daemen over the summer, making Saturday afternoon's contest a welcome home party and a family reunion.
Both sisters got into the action and both teams were neck and neck all the way down to the final buzzer. But in the end, Holy Family, the No. 12-ranked NCAA Division II team in the nation, was able to hold on and thwart a late Wildcats surge to secure a 70-68 victory.
Sarah Pawlak enjoyed the trip back to Western New York, and said it was even better to get the win because she'll be able to rub it in a bit over Thanksgiving break when she returns in a week.
"It was the most perfect day — everyone was here and I felt the love from the hometown," she said. "Daemen played amazing too, so good job to them."
Skolen said the circumstances created a memorable moment for the Pawlak family and a great local reunion.
"That was much anticipated in the Pawlak family right there. That's pretty cool just to be able to have that (here in Buffalo)," he said.
In terms of the actual game, Sarah Pawlak finished with nine points and seven rebounds in 31 minutes, while her sister Rachel took advantage of every one of her nine minutes of action, scoring five points and grabbing two rebounds.
The game was close throughout the second half, as both teams traded the lead back and forth. With the game tied at 65 with just over a minute remaing, Sarah Pawlak scored her biggest basket of the night to put the Tigers up a bucket.
On the very next possession Wildcats guard Lindsay Stoddard made a contested 3-pointer to regain the lead for her team with :50 remaining at 68-67. The Tigers turned it over after that when Daemen freshman Leah McDonell, the 2013 Tonawanda News Player of the Year, stole the ball and took off on the break.
McDonell was fouled and went to the line, but missed the front end of the 1-and-1, and Holy Family secured the rebound. The Tigers hit three free throws down the stretch and Daemen missed a last-second shot attempt at the buzzer.
Skolen said it's hard to be happy about a loss, but that his young team — the Wildcats graduated five seniors off last season's Unites States Collegiate Athletic Association national championship squad — is still learning how to win.
"Afterwards you look and you think, 'Well (Holy Family) is ranked 12th in the country and they're a good team.' We had an opportunity to win the game," he said. "We're so young and it's the kind of thing — so many things that you take for granted aren't necessarily there yet.
"We don't know how to react because we have three freshman starters," he continued. "It's the youngest and shortest team I've coached in my 22 years and there are so many different situations that they haven't been through it yet. We have a lot to learn."
As for McDonell, who finished with five points, four assists and two steals, Skolen loves her attitude and work ethic and expects the former Cardinal O'Hara standout to continue to get better as the season progresses.
"Leah plays as hard as anybody — she's always hustling and always giving 110 percent," he said. "She's a great player to coach because she's going to do anything I ask her to do. I know offensively she'll probably be up and down this year, but I'm very confident that her hustle and intensity will be there all the time."Follow @tonanewssports and sports editor @MattParrino on Twitter for complete local sports coverage.