No. 2 Lady Lions take on No. 6 Falcons at 6 p.m. today at Kenmore West High School
By John D'Onofrio Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
Three’s a charm, unless you’re talking about having to face one of Western New York’s top girls basketball teams.
Lockport’s Lady Lions have already outscored their Niagara Frontier League-rival Niagara-Wheatfield by a combined 49 points in two earlier games this season, beating the Lady Falcons by 74-52 back on Dec. 14 and 61-34 in their last meeting on Jan. 18.
How much those first two meetings come into play won’t be known until 6 p.m. today, when the two teams meet for the third time in 76 days at Kenmore West High School in a Section VI Class AA girls basketball semifinal.
Head coach Bill Shaw’s No. 2-seeded Lady Lions enter 17-2, while head coach Diane Fegatilli’s Lady Falcons are 14-6. Friday night’s second AA semifinal contest at Ken West, which will immediately follow the LHS/N-W contest, pits No. 1 Jamestown (16-3) versus No. 5 Williamsville North (10-8).
Fegatilli said despite the two big losses to a long-time NFL foe, she remains confident that her peaking team can turn things around today.
“The keys for us are going to be rebounding and eliminating second shots,” said Fegatilli, whose team posted its biggest win of the year in Tuesday’s upset AA quarterfinal win at No. 3 Lancaster, 55-43.
“The last time we played Lockport, I thought we played a great first half and were able to stay with them, then got in foul trouble. Our defense played well. We’ll see what happens this time. We’ve got two very quick gards in Rachel Pawlak and Melissa Smith. They defend very well.”
Seniors Pawlak (18.5 ppg) and Smith (16.7 ppg) are known as scorers throughout the NFL, but Fegatilli said it’s their defense which sometimes gets overlooked, and that’s fine with her. Smith topped the 1,000-point mark for her Lady Falcons career two weeks ago in a win over Kenmore East.
“They’re both very good, lockdown defenders and that was key to our win over Lancaster,” Fegatilli said. “Melissa did a great job against the Lancaster guards and got steals and we got a lot of lay-ups from her defense.”
The Lady Lions come into the game after narrowly getting by No. 7 Frontier on Tuesday, 38-34, a game in which both LHS senior guard Lexi Cheatham and junior center Sara Franco were held in check for most of the game.
Fegatilli said Cheatham and Franco aren’t the only two players who can score or rebound consistently for Lockport. Also impressive in their first two meetings was the play of Lady Lions sophomore forward Alyssa Wagner.
“Cheatham and Franco are their two key players, but they’re a strong team from top to bottom,” Fegatilli said. “Wagner had an excellent game against us the second time we played them and stepped up. She rebounded really well and scored some baskets from the low post. Yes, they have two stars, but there are other players who can step up and we know that.”
Among those “other” LHS key players include freshman Gretta Dry and sophomore Hailey Bechtold. With Franco and Cheatham (10 points combined) bottled up for the most part, Dry canned 14 points — a dozen in the second half — in Lockport’s come-from-behind quarterfinal win on Tuesday.
The Lockport bench goes deeper with several role players who have contributed solid minutes through the season, including seniors Allie Cavagnaro and Carly Kane, juniors Roserita DiMillo, J’Vonna Clarke and Kennedy Smith; and sophomore Johanna Jenkins.
A leaky roof at Sweet Home High School — the originally designated sight for today’s game — forced the venue change to Kenmore West. Fegatilli said the Ken West court is slightly larger, but that might not make a lot of difference because neither team presses much.
“In this league, you have to play defense and protect your basket. I don’t think the change in court size will effect either team,” she said.
Among other N-W players to watch out for tonight are 6-1 sophomore center Allyson Czaja, who had 16 rebounds in Tuesday’s win over the Lady Redskins.
“She’s really come into her own and has improved tremendously, posting double-doubles against good competition in Grand Island and Lancaster,” Fegatilli said.
Other top players on the Lady Falcons’ roster include sharp shooting Melissa Elnicki and defensive specialist Kiersten Klettke.
“When teams key on Pawlak and Smith, Melissa comes up with a key bucket. You dare her to shoot and she’s a very good shooter,” Fegatilli said. “Kiersten is a player who goes unnoticed for the most part, but defensively she does a great job along the baseline and being a second rebounder, she too is able to start fast breaks.”
The winners of tonight’s AA girls semifinals will play for the AA championship at 8 p.m. Tuesday at Niagara County Community College in Sanborn.
GIRLS BASKETBALL SHOWDOWN
• WHO: No. 2 Lockport versus No. 6 Niagara-Wheatfield
• WHAT: Section VI Class AA girls basketball semifinal
• WHEN/WHERE: 6 p.m. today, at Kenmore West High School
• COACHES: Bill Shaw (Lockport) and Diane Fegatilli (N-W)
• RECORDS: Lockport (17-2), N-W (14-6)
• KEY PLAYERS: Lexi Cheatham and Sara Franco (Lockport), Rachel Pawlak and Melissa Smith (N-W).
• PREVIOUS MEETINGS: The teams have played twice so far this season with Lockport winning both Niagara Frontier League games, 74-52 in Sanborn on Dec. 14; and 61-34 in Lockport on Jan. 18.