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Monday, March 9, 2015 at 10:38 am

Pair of BHS athletes have strong showing in state track championships

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, Batavia HS, sports, track and field

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Two Batavia High School athletes competed in the state indoor track championships this weekend. Devon Koepp (pictured) finished sixth in the weight throw with a distance of 58' 8" (He is the Section V record holder at 60' 5.") and Kaylee Cassidy finished sixth in the 1,600 medley.

Monday, March 9, 2015 at 1:12 am

Blue Devils unable to close out in sectional title game at Blue Cross Arena

post by Howard B. Owens in basketball, batavia, Batavia HS, high school sports, sports

In a world of infinite possibilities, there are an infinite number of ways the Batavia Blue Devils basketball team could have won its Class A2 Section V championship game Sunday evening at Blue Cross Arena.

A three-pointer from Jeff Redband could have dropped rather than rim out. A pass following a steal from Greg Mruzcek to Redband could have hit its target rather than skipping out of bounds. A 35-footer from a School of the Arts guard doesn't swoosh in as the shot clock winds down. One more layup, one more put back, one more backdoor cut, just one more of something positive could have turned the game around.

The one reality, though, is School of Arts won 45-36.

The Silver Eagles won not just because of a few bad breaks for the Blue Devils, nor because Batavia failed to execute on some of its basketball fundamentals. They won because they're a good team.

For the Eagles, Sergio Alicea sliced up the defense with his speed, deft ball handling and smooth shooting stroke. His 14 points were the product of three threes and a dunk that didn't seem possible from the 5'8" guard until he did it.

Christian Simmons, the tournament MVP, added 12 points, hitting five of eight from the field.

The Silver Eagles kept Batavia's offense off balance by switching up its defense, moving quickly to the ball and closing passing lanes.

"Give them credit," Head Coach Buddy Brasky said. "They went box and one to triangle and two to one three one and it kept us out of our rhythm. We didn't make very many good basketball plays. They key on Redband; they make everything tough on him and somebody else has to step up and we didn't get anybody else who stepped up."

The Blue Devils went into the half down 26 to 18, but Brasky told his team they could win it.

"We needed to have a quarter, the third quarter, which is normally our best quarter during the year where we kept them to single digits and we could get right back in the game," Brasky said. "We did that. We actually took the lead. I think it was 27-26, then they hit a three and then a three toward the buzzer. That to me was the key to the game. We had taken control of that game and then they scored six points. We went from up one to down five."

SOTA went the first seven minutes of the third quarter without a basket before hitting that pair of threes.

The Eagles then went on a run and opened up another big lead.

Batavia mistakes made things a little easier on SOTA.

The rebounding could have been better, Brasky said. The team worked on it in practice leading up to sectionals, knowing they would be playing more athletic teams. 

The passing could have been better. It's something the team works on all season --  fake the pass to make a pass, improve passing angles on the dribble, hit the open man more quickly while he still has an open look.

That meant, Brasky said, that the Blue Devils were forced to take more forced shots as time expired on the shot clock.

"When you're playing a team like that, who's athletic and in the passing lanes, and they go for steals, they anticipate, you've got to do those types of things," Brasky said.

The mistakes add up.

"Jeff tried to do what he could, but it wasn't enough," Brasky said.

With his team falling behind and struggling, Redband stepped up his game in the 4th quarter, going coast-to-coast on several transitions and driving the line when teammates dished it to him or taking the open jumper when offered.

"We were down by nine or 10 and I wasn't going to go out not shooting and just being passive, so I just trying to do everything I could," Redband said. "I didn't play very good tonight, but I tried. I tried. At least I tried."

Actually, Redband scored a game-high 20 points and if a few things would have gone differently in the last couple of minutes, he would have scored more.

He, along with Jerrett Laskett, was named to the all-tournament team.

Redband was part of one of the special seasons in Blue Devils basketball history and he helped create some of the magic in 2013 when Batavia had a shot -- but came up short -- at a state title. A buzzer beater by Redband, among his first of the more than 1,000 varsity points he would score, is what sent Batavia to states.

Since then, Batavia has made it to the sectional title game twice, but hasn't been able to secure a win.

"I realize now I didn't truly appreciate winning a sectional my sophomore year," Redband said. "I realize now after losing finals two years in a row, that was something really special. I didn't really need to work for it at all my sophomore year, and I worked my butt off my junior and senior year and I realized how special it is to play here (Blue Cross Arena) and win sectionals."

Now, the university-bound Redband's high school career is over. It's a somber moment to contemplate.

"I love this team," Redband said. "High school basketball is just, it's like the greatest thing. I grew up with these guys, playing Junior Blue Devils, playing modified, all throughout, and it's crazy to think I'm never going to play with them again."

He also appreciated playing for Buddy Brasky.

"He's great," Redband said. "He motivates us. He's always willing to open up the gym any time of year. People see him yelling, but he's really like, he loves us. He really likes us as players, so I loved playing for him."

Brasky said at the beginning of the season, he thought this was a team that could win a sectional title. It should have won a sectional title. It was, he said, the best team in the bracket. It just didn't get the job done.

"I told them in the locker room, this is one of the most enjoyable teams I've ever coached because they were a true team," Brasky said. "Nobody cared who got the credit, nobody cared if they didn't play, everybody really cared about the team. A team like that should be rewarded, but you know, it's not always fair. In sports, one team wins, one team loses. They were a true team and they were really enjoyable to coach this year."

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Sunday, March 8, 2015 at 10:24 am

Photos: Bulls beat Bowling Green to win MAC title

post by Howard B. Owens in basketball, sports, UB Bulls

If you can't tell, I love shooting sports, especially basketball.  The folks at the Univerity at Buffalo Athletic Department are kind enough to allow me access to courtside for UB Bulls games and I was able to go Friday night for the final home game of the season.

In a market where there is no NBA team and none of the Division 1 teams have really gone big time yet, UB is well positioned to become that local dominant program.

Look at what the Aztecs have done in San Diego, going from a nearly empty house every game to consistent sell-outs and one of the loudest crowds in college basketball. 

Friday's game was hopefully a preview of what's to come for the Bulls.  More than 6,000 rowdy fans in the stands.

"My teammates put on a show and that generates a buzz locally," said Will Regan, a Buffalo native, (top photo) after the game. "It's exciting for me because when I transferred back from Virginia I had a goal to sort of try and take this program to the next level. We're not there yet, but it's an exciting time."

The crowd was definitely a factor, said head coach Bobby Hurley following the hard-fought, always tight game that the Bulls won 77-75.

"This is what real big time college environment should look like in terms of a crowd," Hurley said.

Hurley would know. A standout at Duke University from 1989 to 1983, when Duke won two National Championships, Hurley played on the biggest stage and is now in charge of recharging the UB basketball program. In his second year, the team seems on the right track.  Friday's win gave the Bulls the  Mid-American Conference title.

Sunday, March 8, 2015 at 9:30 am

Notre Dame suffers heartbreaking loss in OT in Section V championship game

post by Howard B. Owens in basketball, high school sports, Notre Dame, sports

For much of the first half of Saturday's Section V Class D1 championship game at Blue Cross Arena, Josh Johnson was the wheel that kept Notre Dame's offense rolling.

But wheels have cogs and cogs sometimes break.

The broken cog Saturday was Johnson's hip, which the senior guard hurt late in the half.

Who knows how the game might have turned out if Johnson had been healthy and rolling at full speed through an entire 32 minutes.

A slowed Johnson didn't exactly curb the Fighting Irish offense. The game did move at a different pace, but Notre Dame still held a lead with a minute to play.

The 51-48 on the tote board above the court glowed, but that's only three points. There's little margin for error with a one-basket lead in a championship game.

The errors came in pairs Saturday. Six times, when a single charity point would have made it a two-possession game, Notre Dame shooters missed free throws.

Johnson missed four of them.

The first two after a backcourt foul, which sent Johnson trotting down the court, nodding at his teammates with knowing smile that seemed to say, "I've got this."

Only Johnson didn't have it. Neither shot fell. The Notre Dame bench, so animated for most of the half, was quiet, unmoved, sitting like parishioners in a church pew waiting for the collection plate.

Notre Dame's six foul shots were the gifts every team gets as the clock winds down in close games. They're donations you have to accept to win. Every coach, player and fan knows it.

Johnson would later let his frustration show with the slam of a fist into the seat of a folding chair. 

Only Johnson knows if his hip injury affected his foul shooting. It's hardly inconceivable that it did. The change in the release of a shooter by only a fraction inch is the difference between a brick and a swish. A twinge of pain in a leg pushing up could unbalance the stroke.

That isn't an excuse. Just a thought.

The reality is, Genesee Valley's Dan George, who hadn't scored through the prior 31 minutes of play, suddenly became a factor in the final 60 seconds.

He hit two three-pointers, the second 20-footer coming with about five seconds left on the clock to tie the score.

Head Coach Mike Rapone threw his arms out wide as if to say, "how did that happen?"

After the game, Rapone explained what happened. Notre Dame's coverage broke down.

"We were supposed to be man-to-man coming out of the last time out and four of us were and one of us wasn't and that's the guy who got left open," Rapone said.

With three seconds left, the Irish huddled for one last time.

The ensuing inbound pass went to Caleb Nellis at half court. He turned, leaped and released. The form was good. The heave was long. The ball left his hands before the buzzer. It hit the backboard in the square above the rim and for smallest split of a second there was hope, but this was no Christian Laettner moment.

"I've got to be honest, I knew we were in trouble when the game went into overtime," Rapone said. "The emotional swings, with kids it's tough. Our kids felt like they had the game won and now you've got to go overtime and by that time, Josh was no factor on offense, so I knew we weren't going to score a lot of points in overtime."

After those final four minutes in which the Irish scored just once, Notre Dame was left with slumped shoulders and blue jerseys pulled up to cover faces as Genesee Valley players leaped into group embrace to celebrate their 57-53 victory.

Johnson, who seemed unstoppable in the first half, finished with 22 points and Rapone admitted, the "what if" question was inescapable.

"You'd like to dream what could have happened if he didn't get hurt because it really didn't look like they had an answer for him in the first half," Rapone said.

To be sure, Genesee Valley is a good team, led by a quick and potent guard, Tyler Zlomek, MVP of the tournament, who scored 24 points and forced man-to-man coverage while the Irish used a zone to impede the rest of Genesee Valley's offense

They also had to deal with 6' 6" junior Carter Schneider.

An athletic center, Schneider battled under the boards and kept his team fired up, though he hardly embarrassed Nellis, who had 11 rebounds and a couple of key put-back baskets in the second half.

"I'm not taking anything away from them, but I still say the game was there for us to take," Rapone said.

The Irish were helped a lot by the play of Casey Midwich, who showed a good deal of leadership when Johnson was out of the game for a few minutes in the third quarter and finished with nine points.

Nellis had seven points, Tyler Prospero five and John Sutherland and Luca Zambito each scored four.

Johnson also had 10 rebounds for a double-double and Sutherland had eight.

"The game was there for us to take and we didn't grab it and we have to accept that fact," Rapone said.

Dan George with the three-point shot that tied the score in the final seconds of regulation time.

Johnson made All-Tournament team, with gifts from Section V including a plaque and medal on a ribbon.

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Saturday, March 7, 2015 at 5:10 pm

Mynderse defeats Byron-Bergen to take Class C1 championship

post by Howard B. Owens in basketball, byron-bergen, high school sports, sports

Team quickness and heavy use of a press defense helped Mynderse secure a 43-26 victory over Byron-Bergen in the girls basketball Section V Class C1 championship game played today at Rush-Henrietta High School.

A 15-1 first quarter set the stage for the Bees defeat. It was a hole Byron-Bergen never climbed out of despite scoring 12 points in the second quarter, which turned out to be a higher total than the one scored in the second half by the Bees.

Lindsey Lovett had 11 points for Byron Bergen, and Abbie Kelley scored 10. Sam Donnelly had five.

Lovett and Kelley were named to the All Tournament team.

Saturday, March 7, 2015 at 4:44 pm

Genesee punches ticket to national tournament after district title win

post by Andrew Crofts in basketball, GCC, sports

For the first time in 12 years the Genesee Community College men's basketball team is headed to the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) National Tournament. The Cougars, representing Region III, won the District II title over visiting No. 16 Dean College (MA) out of Region 21 on Saturday afternoon at GCC, 96-79.

Genesee led start to finish and shot better than 53-percent from the floor in the game.

Ervin Mitchell and Naquil Jones both finished in double-figures with 21 points apiece, and Jason Perry Murray became the career leader in blocks in school history with 110. The sophomore needed just one block entering Saturday's contest to take possession of the mark and ended the afternoon with four.

Joshua Doughty dished out six assists in the first half alone and was just one rebound shy of recording a triple-double in the game. He finished with 13 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds.

After trailing by 13 at the half, Dean cut the GCC lead down to nine early in the second but did not get any closer. The Cougars went on a 12-0 run to take control and led by as much as 24 in the final period.

Gabriel Burroughs added 19 points and Perry Murray finished with 12 points and nine boards.

The Cougars finished plus-five in rebounding and forced 17 turnovers by the Bulldogs.

Genesee (23-8) will now wait for the seeds and pairings to be announced for the NJCAA National Tournament, which will be held in Danville, IL on Mar. 17-21. It will be the first trip to the national tournament since the 2002-03 season.

Saturday, March 7, 2015 at 12:45 pm

Lady Lancers fall in title game 55-47

post by Howard B. Owens in basketball, elba, high school sports, sports

Photos by Jim Burns. Game information from Emily Tomczak.

A third-quarter rally wasn't enough for the Elba Lady Lancers to overcome Jasper-Troupsburg in the Section V Class D1 final in Letchworth on Friday night.

Jasper came out on top 55-47.

Haley Brown had 16 points, Alex Reigle had 14 points, and Alyssa Bogue had 13 points.

Alex Reigle and Haley Brown were named to the All-Tournament team, and Jenna Pedro received the sportsmanship award.

To view more photos and to purchase prints from Jim Burns, click here.

Thursday, March 5, 2015 at 6:30 pm

A championship weekend for Genesee County

Genesee County will have four teams playing for Section V championships in their respective classes this weekend.

Elba's Lady Lancers plays Jasper-Troupsburg for the Class D1 crown at Letchworth at 8 p.m., Friday. Elba beat Arkport last night 68-36.

Byron-Bergen's Lady Bees take on Mynderse at 1 p.m., Saturday, at Rush Henrietta after winning last night 42-38 over Gananda.

The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame take on Genesee Valley in the boys Class D1 championship at 7:15 p.m., Saturday, at Blue Cross Arena. Notre Dame beat Mt. Morris 62-45 to advance. Head Coach Mike Rapone asked that fans be advised that officials are going to clear out the stands at Blue Cross Arena following the completion of the 4:15 p.m. game Saturday. Doors will open for the 7:15 game at 6:45 p.m.

The Batavia Blue Devils go for the Class A2 title at 5 p.m., Sunday, against School of the Arts at Blue Cross Arena. (Click here for coverage of their semi-final game). 

Thursday, March 5, 2015 at 5:42 pm

Batavia girls overcome by Mendon in second half, lost playoff game 57-43

post by Howard B. Owens in basketball, batavia, Batavia HS, high school sports, sports

The size and speed of Pittsford-Mendon caught up with the Lady Blue Devils in the 4th quarter of their Class B1 Section V semi-final game in Penfield on Wednesday night.

Batavia was outscored 20-11 in the 4th quarter after being held to seven in the third.

"Mendon's girls play defense," said Head Coach Marty Hein. "They know where the screens are going to happen. They get around the screens. It's a totally different level of basketball IQ. They're a well-coached team. They've got a great program, a great feeder program. We weren't getting the same looks we get against other teams. It was a lot more difficult."

The final score was 57-43.

Even as she was constantly harassed and hurried, dogged by defenders and given few opportunities to score, Tiara Filbert still managed six field goals and 16 points on the night, making her the game's high scorer.

Batavia's other scorer, Maddie McCulley hit four field goals and had 13 points.

Significantly, neither girl managed a three-point bucket.

Sam Cecere was held to eight points.

Hein said his team would have benefitted by being a little more patient on offense, setting up more open looks for their scorers.

"I think I'd almost rather have taken 30-second shot clock violations than some of the choices we made offensively, but pressure does that to you," Hein said.

It was a great run for the Lady Devils, which is still a young team. Only three players will graduate off the team. The nucleus is all returners, including Filbert, McCulley, Cecere and Taylor Stefaniak, a freshman who played her way into a starting role over the course of the season and shows a lot of promise as a guard, playmaker and gutsy leader.

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Thursday, March 5, 2015 at 3:40 pm

Blue Devils put up numbers in the second half to win Section V playoff at Blue Cross Arena

post by Howard B. Owens in basketball, batavia, Batavia HS, high school sports, sports

Basketball, when played pure and sweet, is five guys on the court coordinated in a single purpose. It's a team game. Wednesday, the Batavia Blue Devils played as a team to pull away from College Prep in the second half to pull off a 58-48 win in the Section V Class A2 Semi-Final at Blue Cross Arena.

Nerves may have gotten to the Blue Devils in the first half, when they played College Prep even through all 16 minutes and finished the half in a 21-21 tie.

"It was a very hard fought game," said Head Coach Buddy Brasky. "No matter how many times you're here, it's hard the next year the first time you come back. It's the big arena. It's the big stage. I thought we played very tentative early, the entire first half. I thought we were more like a deer in headlights, to be quite honest with you. I got after them a little bit at halftime and asked them to forget where we're playing. 'You've been playing the game your whole life. Just play.' "

Play they did. Jeff Redband, harassed on the perimeter by a swarming defense in the first two quarters, started driving the lane. Trevor Sherwood distributed the ball well, frequently finding Malachi Chenault under the board. Greg Mruzcek disrupted on defense and grabbed rebounds. Jerrett Laskett was a motivational spark throughout the game and was a big reason Batavia was even still in the game in the second half.

"He stepped up big time and that's what seniors are supposed to do," Brasky said. "You know, they're boxing and oneing Jeff. He can barely gets a look and when he gets them. He's got to rush them, so he couldn't get in any kind of a rhythm, and Jerrett just made big plays and hit big shot after big shot. You're right, we wouldn't be standing here talking right now if it was for Jerrett."

Laskett finished with 17 points, two assists, two steals and three rebounds. He was 3-5 on three-point attempts.

Redband led the game with 24 points, going 3-8 from beyond the arch. He had 13 defensive rebounds (14 total) to go along with three blocked shots and a rebound.

Chenault has been coming on strong the past few weeks and scored 11 points, several of them on offensive put backs.

"He's been here before and he knows what it takes," Brasky said. "He was in some foul trouble, but he got some put backs and that was just huge."

Before the game, Brasky told Mruzcek he would need his biggest rebounding performance of the season, and so Mruzcek delivered.

"Greg will do whatever I ask him to do," Brasky said. Greg does not care about anything else except for winning. That's all he cares about. If I were tell him to run down the court backwards the whole game, he would do it, and he wouldn't question me. He would just do it. Yes, Greg was huge, his defense and his rebounding and his physicality. He's been doing that stuff for us all year. He doesn't get a lot of notoriety, but he's a huge part of our success."

In the post-game interview, the first words from Redband, who scored his 1,000th career point in the 4th quarter, were praise for his teammates. 

"All I know Jerret and Malachi played their butts off tonight," Redband said. "They played so good, they played so tough, they rose to the occasion. That was a good team that we just beat right there. We had to fight through a lot of obstacles throughout the game. It was a good win."

Laskett, Redband said, was the difference in the first half.

"He was amazing tonight," Redband said. "He kept us in the game when everybody else was perhaps a little bit nervous, or we were just a little bit thrown off by their defense or something, but he kept us in the game and let everybody else get going. That was big tonight."

The senior guard was clearly fired up from the opening tip off.

"I knew this could be my last time playing basketball," Laskett said. "That's it. It's win or go home."

As for Redband, he played varsity for only a few games his sophomore year and was a starter for only his junior and senior year. At the start of the season, he didn't give himself much of a shot at reaching 1,000 points.

He was surprised when he heard the PA announcement in the 4th quarter.

"I didn't even know I was close to be honest," Redband said. "I thought I needed another hundred.
Just to be on that 1,000-point list is just amazing. I didn't think I would get there. It means a lot that I got it."

The next step, a sectional title, will be tough, but Redband thinks the team has it in them to pull it off.

"We've got to keep going doing what we did all year," Redband said. "We can't get nervous. We can't just be robots out there. We've got to make basketball plays. I feel like we did better towards the end of the game driving and dishing to people who were open. Trevor did some good moves and got Malachi open. We were just doing better basketball plays. We've got to keep doing that."

Batavia (18-2) plays School of the Arts (19-2) at 5 p.m., Sunday, at Blue Cross Arena, for the Section V Class A2 championship.

Several of the Batavia players were part of the football team this past season that won a sectional title and advanced to the regional final. They're aware, Brasky said, that they have a chance to be part of history -- the first players in school history with championships in both football and basketball in the same year.

That championship experience is also an advantage for the players, Brasky said.

"I think that helped in the second half," Brasky said. "You're right, they've been to this stage. They've succeeded on this stage, in a different sport, but it carries over. We fell behind. We weren't playing very well, but they didn't panic. They're winners. It goes hand in hand." 

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