ROB_0067 (11).jpg

Niagara Wheatfield's Ty Kwitchoff fights for the ball against McKinley's Sajon Beasley (middle) during the Section VI Class A-1 championship game Saturday at Buffalo State University.


BUFFALO — Minutes after the basketball stopped bouncing, Erik O’Bryan got choked up.

Finding words to describe the “wonderful group” of players he coached didn’t come easily.

The strong bond O’Bryan and the players developed over the last few months makes season-ending losses an even tougher pill to swallow.

The Falcons now have time to reflect on this game and the season as a whole as they bowed out to McKinley, 60-56, in the Section VI Class A-1 championship game on Saturday at Buffalo State University.

“I love those guys and they give everything they have for me every single day,” O’Bryan said. “I get on them at times and they keep coming back and it’s a respect thing that we have with each other.”

McKinley, who out-edged Williamsville East in a 76-74 finish in Monday’s semifinal action, started off the finals with a bang, quickly jumping out to a 12-4 lead with 4 minutes, 15 seconds left in the first quarter. Even when Derek Jelen’s lone basket of the game helped the Falcons cut the deficit to four points (14-10), the Macks came roaring back on a 6-0 run to take a 10-point lead. Niagara Wheatfield senior shooter Xander Fletcher (18 points) countered with his first of three 3-pointers on the day in the final seconds to cut the deficit to 20-13.

Then in the second quarter, the Falcons, who were making its third consecutive appearance in the Class A-1 championship, chipped away to cut the score to five points (23-18). But McKinley swung the momentum back into their favor, going on an 8-0 over the last two minutes to take a 35-22 lead at halftime — a run capped off by a deep trey from Mekhi Williams (16 points) with 2.3 seconds remaining.

Noting that the team was “rattled” in the first half despite seeing an expected box-and-one defense from McKinley, O’Bryan didn’t have to say much inside the locker room other than getting back to the basics.

“The only thing we said at halftime was, ‘We’re gonna go play Niagara Wheatfield basketball,” O’Bryan said. “We’re gonna go baseline to baseline. We’re going to defend, we’re going to rebound, and we’re going to play the way we want to play. And, whatever happens, happens.”

And boy, did the troops answer the call.

Out of the halftime break, the Falcons used inside makes from Dan LiBerti and Luke Walck (13 points) and a three-pointer from Ty Kwitchoff (12 points) to start the second half on a 10-3 run, trimming McKinley’s lead to 38-32 with under five minutes left in the third quarter. Then trailing 44-35 with 2:56 left, the Falcons soared again as Kwitchoff drilled another 3-pointer and Fletcher, Walck and Shawn Watson (8 points) chipped in for a 9-2 run and had Niagara Wheatfield in a one-possession game, 46-44, heading to the fourth quarter.

ROB_0096 (5).jpg

Niagara Wheatfield's Xander Fletcher (2) goes one-on-one against McKinley's Jordan David-Lewis (23) during the Section VI Class A-1 championship game Saturday at Buffalo State University. 

The game then saw three ties and six lead changes in the fourth quarter with Kwitchoff’s basket inside giving the Falcons a 54-53 lead with 3:40 left. This would be the last time the Falcons led in this contest as McKinley’s Williams go-ahead basket helps the Macks regain and start a sequence to take a 59-54 lead. Fletcher then scored what would be the Falcons’ final basket of the season with 1:25 remaining (59-56) as they then missed three shots — two inside the paint — in the last minute of play.

“It was like a la Lockport all over again,” O’Bryan said, referring to the team’s close 64-61 loss against Lockport on Feb. 7. “... It was almost exactly the same game. We came back to lead and all of a sudden, I mean, we lost it at the end.”

“It didn’t fall for us, it fell for them,” Fletcher said of the game’s finish. “If we play (them) any other day, we win that game.”

Despite how the season ended, the Falcons walked off the court Saturday with their heads held high, considering, at the start of the season, the team had a plethora of new faces learning on the fly.

“We just kept getting better in practice and our defense in practice just got 10 times better,” Fletcher said.

Sajon Beasley added 15 points for McKinley, who improved to 19-4 and will next face Amherst for the overall Class A crown Tuesday at 7:45 p.m.

Niagara Wheatfield finished the season 16-7.

Joe Kraus can be reached via or on Twitter @ByJoeKraus.

Trending Video

Recommended for you