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Wellsville comeback earns Section V basketball championship with 52-43 win over Le Roy for back-to-back titles (video, photos, story)

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Story and video by JOHN ANDERSON, photos by STEVE HARRISON

Wellsville has had basketball success, even a Section V title last season, but with the pandemic and scheduling issues, this group of Lions has not played at the Blue Cross Arena/Rochester War Memorial.

And it showed in the Section V Class B2 finals against Le Roy Saturday morning.

However, with a coach who played — and lost — twice on Les Harrison Court in Rochester, he said he refused to let this team feel that same pain he has carried his entire life.

In his first year, Wellsville coach Tom Muska did just that, calmly guiding Wellsville to a 52-43 victory for back-to-back Section V championships.

“I lost to Way-Co and Hornell. I was thinking about that the whole time. It was one of the worst moments of my life, losing on this floor and I didn’t want the kids to have to feel that,” Muska said. “It feels really good that our boys can walk away with that little piece.”

When the final horn sounded, Muska looked up in the stands and smiled.

“I was enjoying it. It’s great to play and coach for a school that travels like this,” Muska said. “For a school that is two hours away with a snowstorm last night and we still had a bunch of students and parents out there. It was great to see them.”

The win was not easy.

“They came out hot, I’ll give it to them, those kids were ready to play today,” Muska said. “We tried to trust the scout, we knew our game plan coming in, Aidan Riley was amazing in it. There is a lot on his shoulders, trying to leave a kid and going to double another one. But we trusted what we did in practice the last two days and it paid off in the end.”

Holley set the tone early with a blocked shot on the first drive of the game. The Lions went down 10-4, but closed out the first quarter strong thanks to a steal by Cody Costello and a 3-pointer by Asher Billings to trail, 13-10.

In the second quarter, J.J. Howard took over on offense and with some big rebounds. When Holley went out with his third foul and an 18-12 Le Roy lead, Wellsville went on a 12-0 run. A Logan Dunbar layup from a Howard pass gave Wellsville their first lead since 2-0 and a 19-18 lead.

“I think the bright lights (of the War Memorial) and it’s so special here, it takes a little bit to calm down,” Muska said. “After the first quarter, you could see they were breathing a little bit better, they were comfortable again. And once we got comfortable we started playing our game and we were fine. We are not a great offensive team, we’re not a team that is going to score 80. But if we are comfortable, we are going to score 50-55 and that’s what we did.”

Holley came back in with 30 seconds left, grabbed an offensive board and scored at the buzzer to cut the Wellsville lead to 24-20 at the half.

Wellsville took a 36-27 lead after three quarters and it could have been more. The Lions missed on four straight trips down the floor. To make matters worse, Dunbar and Howard picked up their third fouls in the quarter. But the Lions defense was quick and kept Le Roy off the scoreboard as well.

Hward picked up his fourth foul early in the fourth and Andrew Pocock drained a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 36-30 with 6:41 left in the game.

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Le Roy had momentum, but Muska called a time out. Aidan Riley drove through the lane for a huge layup and a 38-30 lead with 6:09 left in the game. After two Wellsville stops, Cody Costello drained a big 3-pointer and a 41-30 Wellsville lead with 5:02 left.

Asher Billings then came up with a steal but when the Lions didn’t capitalize, Holley scored to cut the lead to 41-32 with 3:42 left.

Costello, who was playing with four fouls, then drove the lane, avoided a charge and laid the ball up for a 43-32 lead with 3:17 left. The Lions finally were in a comfort zone, made their free throws and won.

“It’s different here (at the War Memorial). Where we are now is not a normal high school hallway. It’s expansive, it’s almost like shooting outside,” Muska said. “I wish we had the experience last year, but we had it this year and I hope we can come back next year.”

In Class B1,  Newark, the #2 seed beat #1 Batavia, 60-55 for the title.

It sets up a rematch from last year as Newark and Wellsville will play at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Penn Yan. A trip to the Far West Regionals is on the line.

Logan Dunbar was named sectionals MVP for his performance.

“Logan is just shy of 1,000 but he was our third leading scorer tonight,” Muska said. “It was a very big team effort, we had buckets from everybody.”

The Section V Sportsmanship awards went to Le Roy’s Maveric McKenzie and Wellsville’s Asher Billings.

Billings has been a solid senior starter and knew after last season he had to work to earn one of the two open starting spots.

“I was never worried about our defense. It was the first game at the Blue Cross and none of us had ever played here and you could see nerves kicking in during the first quarter,” Billings said. “They had 13 and finished with 20 at the half. So we were ok. The offense is always going to be there.

“A day after we lost to Newark when we were turning in our jersey’s I stayed and practiced with Coach Tom,” Billings said. “I was in the gym every single day and basically lived there during the summer trying to earn a starting spot. I wanted to help this team win the ultimate goal, a Section V title.”

The all-tournament team members included Riley, Costello, who scored 17, Howard, Dunbar (MVP), Hornell’s Genarro Picco and Merritt Holley Jr. of Le Roy (he had a game-high 21 points) and Andrew Pocock.

Section V officials realized the impact Riley has on defense, as he scored two points in the finals and made the all-tournament team.

“On defense, I had to help on Holley and stop #3. He had one basket but I don’t think he scored again after that,” Riley said. “Winning was such a crazy experience, especially to win at the Blue Cross.”

Costello added, “Our families were our motivation” and Billings said, “they are always the first person there to celebrate every single time. Before the game I was looking for my parents to make sure they were there.”

Costello then said, “When we won, it was the best feeling ever. The moment that buzzer went off … we made it.”

Le ROY  13  7  7  16 — 43

WELLSVILLE 10  14  10  16  — 52

Wellsville: Cody Costello 6 3-4 17, Aidan Riley 1 0-0 2, Cooper Brockway 0 0-0 0, Asher Billings 1 0-0 3, Tyler Vogel 2 1-2 5, J.J. Howard 6 2-2 14, Logan Dunbar 3 3-7 9, Aidan Cowburn 1 0-0 2. TOTALS 20 9-15 52.

Le Roy: Cal Koukides 1 0-0 2, Maveric McKenzie 1 1-2 4, Aaric Luce 2 0-0 5, Merritt Holley Jr., 9 3-10 21, Jase Jedrewski 1 0-0 3, Andrew Pocock 2 0-0 6, Jean Agosto 1 0-0 2. TOTALS: 17 4-12 43

3-pointers: Wellsville 3 (Costello 2, Billings). Le Roy: 5 (Pocock 2, Jedrewski, Luce, McKenzie, Koukides)

Total fouls: Wellsville 15, Le Roy 15 Fouled out: none.

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