Wellsville coach Raymie Auman shows off the block to the team. Photo by Ross Munson/WCS
Story and photo gallery by CHRIS BROOKS, video by JOHN ANDERSON
WEBSTER — One of the biggest adversities that the Wellsville Lions had to face entering the new season was inexperience.
After their COVID-shortened season a year ago ended at the hands of eventual Class B2 Finalist, Mynderse in the opening round, the Lions were suddenly left with many missing pieces to fill in. With it, a sour taste in the mouth after the 67-41 defeat handed by the Blue Devils.
As the calendar flipped to the 2021-22 season for the Lions, it has been filled with its fair share of ups and downs. But as of late, the No. 4 seeds have been playing some of their best basketball at the most perfect of times. That inexperience over time, has turned into an incredible amount of growth.
It capped off with another upset, this time No. 3 Mynderse, as the No. 4 seed Wellsville Lions secured their third Class B2 Championship in the last seven years with a redeeming 66-58 triumph to capture all of the glory in a title they haven’t seen since the 2018-19 season.
Wellsville will take on Class B1 champion Newark on Wednesday night at 6 p.m. at Penn Yan Academy.
For head coach Raymie Auman, it began with Eli Schmidt and his rise to becoming one of the team’s leaders. A Senior who he didn’t see as a leader at the beginning of the season.
“We’ve had a lot of kids grow and develop, including Eli. A lot of people look at him and think that he’s always been this good,” he said. “I’ll be honest, he’s come a very long way. He was not a leader for us at the beginning of the season. He was out of control and he played his own game. He really committed to being the leader that we needed since then, to slow the game down when we needed him to. Playing under control, and continuing to develop his game. He has really changed our season around.”
As of late, Schmidt has been the pinnacle to Wellsville’s tremendous ride through the Sectional tournament. But he hasn’t been the only one that has been basking in all of the success, which has led them to the Class B2 Finals on Saturday at Webster Schroeder.
The hope was that the success, the confidence, the growth that Wellsville has endured over the course of the season, including their Sectional run, would find a way to pay off by the end of the day. To do it, they would have to go face-to-face with one of Class B’s cream of the crop. The same team that knocked them out last season in the opening round — the Blue Devils.
You could say, a chance for redemption.
It was fair to say that the Lions were given everything they could handle, and on the return, Mynderse was given the same. It would result in an up-and-down first half that would suddenly create level playing ground going into the locker room, with each team coming together in a 26-26 tie.
Instead of a full game left, it was now down to a half. A half where it would pose one simple question — Do you believe in magic?
Logan Dunbar certainly does.
The Wellsville junior is another name that has also cemented their presence on the hardwood. If there was any doubt behind how much of an impact his play has provided, none remained after what was a second half of incredible proportions. Dunbar helped the Lions break free from the Blue Devils starting in the third quarter, all the way to the end, as he recorded 23 of his game-high 29 points in the last 16 minutes by connecting from all four facets of the game — inside, outside, special teams and on defense.
His efforts were paramount, and it gave the Lions a second half lead that they never looked back on, despite some late pressure by Mynderse down the stretch.
“We never got down on ourselves. We went from an inexperienced team at the beginning of the season, to looking like a veteran team at the end,” Auman said. “It’s a testament to our coaches, and our leaders within our team really trusting in what we were doing, trusting their teammates, and simply grinding everything out. I couldn’t be more proud of the grit, the grind and the confidence that these guys have developed. Really, the composure that we had in a game that saw a lot of runs. We would go up by a little, they would come back and chip away. It’s your classic Mynderse-Wellsville battle, and we’ve had those for a long time. It was nice to finish the way that we did.”
The first quarter was no different between both squads from within was another classic battle, as Mynderse picked up the early jump on the Lions (14-8), but would ultimately work its way towards a 9-9 tie coming down the stretch. With a three from Mynderse’s Will Korzeniewski forcing that tie, it was quickly responded to by Alex Perkins right at the buzzer.
It wouldn’t be the only time that such an occasion happened in the game, as Perkins nailed a three-pointer right as the buzzer sounded to kill off the momentum that the Blue Devils had built off of Korzeniewski’s three-ball, which came with 10 seconds left. As a result, a 12-9 lead for Wellsville to work with.
The momentum killer would soon become the momentum builder, as Perkins’ shot would give the Lions a big spark on offense with a scoreless run that would reach 11 straight, led by the Wellsville senior himself, as well as Logan Dunbar, both combining to record 12 of the team’s 14 points in the frame, each netting six.
Just as Wellsville doubled up Mynderse, the Blue Devils nearly made up the entire deficit in one enormous swing, scoring eight in a row themselves, all from inside the arc, as they trimmed the deficit down to a single possession with three minutes left in the opening half.
After a three-point play by Troy Kabat at the line for the No. 3 seeds closed the gap once more to one point, a long three-pointer from Ethan Hilimire on the next possession sent Mynderse over the top with another lead in the waning seconds of the half.
But history would repeat itself.
As momentum was being built to carry into the locker room, Perkins took matters into his own hands once again with another buzzer-beating shot, one that would ultimately take the wind out of the Blue Devils sails with his basket on the run underneath tying the game up at 26, creating a brand new ballgame for when the second half kicks into gear.
Auman commended his Senior for his incredible first half efforts.
“Alex has stepped up towards the end of the season as a major Senior leader for us,” he said of Perkins. “He has stood within his role, and continues to do what he’s best at. A few times, he was outmatched, but he outworked them. That’s who he is as a person. He’s going to take that through his life, and become an extremely successful player because of it. That bucket at the end of the half was huge. Mynderse had the momentum, and we had started to get tired. They hit a couple threes, which is something we didn’t want to give them, and then Alex took the wind right out of their sails.”
After Perkins provided some devastating blows for the Blue Devils, it was Logan Dunbar’s turn.
Auman requested his team for a brand new half of basketball to simply go out and get the job done, to create the plays that mattered the most, the plays that would become defining moments in winning a Sectional championship. Not only in the third quarter, but in the second half itself, Dunbar checked every box on the list.
The Lions junior was simply unstoppable from all angles of the floor. Dunbar simply could not miss, whether it was from inside or from downtown Webster, or even at the line and on defense, he would supply 23 of his game-high 29 points all in the last 16 minutes of play, as they busted the door down on a 20-9 run of the Blue Devils to break a 26-all tie, and rebuild it with what was a double digit lead heading into the fourth quarter.
A moment in the game where Auman said that Dunbar earned every second of.
“When we came back out, I told them that I was glad to have them at 26-26. It gave us the feeling after Alex’s shot that we were going to be okay. It was a brand new ballgame, 0-0. We had to start doing it for a half now, we didn’t have to do a full game,” he recalled. “We just had to reset. I told them that we had to go out and get this, and make the plays that are passionate plays that would take you from someone simply doing their job, to someone that wants to go out and give us the win.”
Auman continued on his junior, saying that “Logan has earned every second of his success. He’s someone that stays in the gym, someone that’s consistently working and playing. Some of those shots weren’t exactly what we drew up per say, but that was more on him just going out there and getting it. That’s what he does best, and I am so proud of him for what he was able to do. At the same time, I’m also not surprised one bit.”
Wellsville now all of a sudden found themselves eight minutes away from capturing the Class B2 brick that sat on the opposite sidelines on the table, but they would have to ward off one last push from the Blue Devils to get there, as they began the fourth quarter with seven straight points after a Lions bucket inside to cut their deficit to six.
There was still plenty of time left on the clock to continue making moves, as Mynderse went to the free throw line to keep their game of catch-up moving, getting to within three. But once more for the Lions, Dunbar would come in through the clutch with a massive basket while falling down to the ground to branch their lead back out to five.
After a few exchanges, Wellsville would push their lead insurmountably with 90 seconds left to play, as both Dunbar and Cody Costello knocked down back-to-back daggers from downtown, tallying a seven-point, 59-52 lead over the Blue Devils that they would hold until the end, when the majority of the game’s final points came from the charity stripe, as key baskets from Schmidt and Costello down the homestretch. It would officially seal the deal on the championship for the No. 4 seeds in black and orange.
Coming against a team that Auman admits was apprehensive about playing in the early-going.
“It came as no surprise that Mynderse didn’t give up. I have nothing but respect for them, and they were the one team I didn’t want to play early on,” he said. “That’s a testament to their coach, and how he gets his team prepared year in, and year out. They graduated so many kids from last year, and they just pushed the reset button. I knew they’d keep bringing it, and there was a stretch where we kept missing free throws, which kept them in it. But we were able to find our composure again with Cody and Eli making some big shots to seal it.”
All four of Wellsville’s scorers eclipsed double figures in what was one of, if not, their most impeccable showing yet in Sectionals. Finishing behind Dunbar and his MVP-worthy night, was Schmidt and his 14 points. Costello and Perkins would follow with 12, and 11 points respectively. Schmidt and Perkins would garner All-Tournament nods at game’s end, behind Dunbar’s MVP selection.
Reflecting back on the team’s journey throughout the season, and going into what has been a remarkable run through the Sectional tournament that now sees them become champions for the third time in seven years, the longtime Lions coach says that this year’s team was never out of their comfort zone at any given time.
Something that came up large in what was the team’s underdog story. (Link to Dansville upset story and video)
“Usually the most current ones are the best ones, right?” he questioned. “They’re all special, and this one has a different flavor to it, it really does. We were never a favorite at any given time, where as opposed to the last two times that we’ve won, we probably were. That’s just a cultural aspect, and we’re about winning championships, not just about getting to the game itself. At no point were our kids shell-shocked. They were never out of their element either. This is something that’s been done before. As far as the group, it’s the best I’ve ever coached this year.”
The road for glory in Class B2, but now the Lions have a chance to perhaps add Section V, Class B Champions to their growing list of accolades. That journey will begin on Wednesday as they prepare to face Class B1 Champions — the Newark Reds, for a chance to participate in next weekend’s Far West Regional at Buffalo State.
“We’ll see what happens. Newark is really big, strong and athletic. They dominated the Finger Lakes region along with Palmyra-Macedon this past year. We’ve got to go to the drawing board to come up with a game plan for what should be another tough game. We’ll have a few days for that after we get done celebrating this with some much needed rest tomorrow. And then, we’ll put everything together. This will not be easy.”
Wellsville 12 14 20 20 – 66
Mynderse 9 17 9 23 – 58
WELLSVILLE: Cody Costello 3 4-6 12, Alex Perkins 4 2-4 11, Eli Schmidt 5 4-9 14, Logan Dunbar 11 4-6 29. Totals: 23 14-25 66.
MYNDERSE: Jaydan Ryrko 3 0-0 7, Troy Kabat 6 7-8 19, Will Korzeniewski 1 0-0 3, Ethan Hilimire 2 4-4 8, Mike Bogart 3 3-3 11, Jayden Key 4 2-3 10. Totals: 19 16-18 58.
3-point goals: Wellsville 6 (Dunbar 3, Costello 2, Perkins), Mynderse 4 (Bogart 2, Ryrko, Korzeniewski).
Total Fouls: Wellsville 13, Mynderse 21. Fouled out: Korzeniewski (MYN), Key (MYN).
Chris Brooks photo gallery: