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No quit in the Wellsville Lions, another instant-classic in state qualifiers vs. Newark


Newark holds on tight after Wellsville nearly vanquishes 26-point deficit with incredible 4th quarter revival, as Reds get better of Lions again in Class B State Qualifier with 66-59 edging

Photos and story by CHRIS BROOKS, managing editor,

PENN YAN — In the game of basketball, momentum is key.

Execution has proven to be the foundation for momentum. If you wind up being the first team to possess it, it can become an advantageous privilege in every way, shape and form. It was also something that the Lions of Wellsville wanted to grab out of the gate against a Newark team that stymied their chances at moving one step closer to the State Tournament last season in the Class B Qualifier.

With a chance for redemption, the two squads would meet again in a grudge match to settle the score once more in Penn Yan with another trip to the Far West Regional hanging in the balance.

In a game like this, you will need all the momentum you can possibly muster. Fortunately enough for the overall defending Class B champions in Section V, the Reds did just that out of the gate with a strong lead that they held onto over the course of time. With it, would come one extension to the lead after another.

After ending the first half on the biggest of bangs to partially sway the momentum in their favor going into the locker room, Newark would pick up where they immediately left off with another power surge. Perhaps the strongest the game would see in its entirety. Because of it, the Reds were able to establish an overpowering presence on both ends of the floor, punctuating with heavy capitalization on a lead that eclipsed as high as 26 points during the second half.

Despite falling into the deepest of holes, the Lions would not go down without one last fight in them. A fight that featured the comeback of a lifetime in the making.

Trailing by nearly 30 points going into the fourth quarter, Wellsville would find a way to make it all up to get back within reach of Newark, closing the gap down to the smallest margin of the entire night — four points, as the Lions struck gold from downtown in the most clutch of ways, knocking down seven of their 11 team three-pointers in the last eight minutes.

In all, a miraculous and unbelievable 32-point frame on offense. But in the end, a remarkable rally was something that the Reds simply wouldn’t allow the Lions to complete.

While Wellsville was able to springboard back within two possessions of Newark, they were able to do just enough and hang on. Despite their fourth quarter struggles, the Reds relied on a couple of key responses on offense while connecting with an 11-of-19 outing at the line down the stretch to maintain their one step ahead until the final buzzer, as they warded off all the pressure in the world to finish off a 66-59 winning edge to advance towards a second straight Far West Regional berth.

“We had some stuff that got us some good looks early on, but I think we relied too much on that outside shot. That’s hard, especially when you’re coming off a two-hour bus ride just to get here and then splash some shots from 20 feet away. Once we got settled in, we started to make them,” said Lions coach Tom Muska. “We were at a point where we were two possessions down with four possessions left in the game after being down by 26. We were able to cut it down and get back to within reach, but it’s something that I hope they remember just as much as the title run that we had this year. They worked so hard in the end to give us a chance, but unfortunately we were just a little short.”

Before the Lions were able to create fourth quarter madness to close out the night, they would have to work their way from behind all game beginning in the opening eight minutes, where Newark took advantage on both ends of the floor on nearly everything they were able to set their sights on. As a result, 12 of the game’s first 15 points would lean in the direction of the Reds, led by a huge four-point and-one off the hand of Brayden Steve.

Wellsville (14-10) would fight back and claw within four at the end of the frame, scoring seven of the last nine points led by a wide-open triple from Ty Vogel, and inside help from both Logan Dunbar, off a nifty Vogel assist of an inbound, and JJ Howard. The team in black and orange would cut it down to a pair for only a brief moment after an Aidan Riley lead-off breakaway basket to start the second quarter, as Newark immediately ran off soon after to branch the lead back out once more.

Each time the Lions would continue to dig closer to their opposition, the Reds would find a way to branch it back out almost every time, closing the first half with a 10-point lead with the second of three Steve treys to pair with a buzzer-beating basket from Tony Kanaley underneath. A shot that could potentially mark the turning of the tide.

“Our goal every game, and this has been one of our biggest goals all season, is to hold the opposing team to 10 points or less on defense in a quarter. We can’t allow them to get above 40 in a game, because it pushes it to a point where it becomes too difficult to come back from,” said Muska. “When we saw 16 points, we had to start shifting gears and figure out a way to create our own offense instead of relying on something else.”

The big subject point entering the second half was how Newark was going to respond to their latest stint of momentum. A buzzer-beating shot can provide all the boosting a team needs to formulate an insurmountable advantage. After the Lions turned over the ball three consecutive times on the attack, it would allow the Reds to resume igniting their pistons on offense themselves by cashing in on 16 straight points led by Steve, Raeshawn Howard and Kellen Foster, who combined for all 19 of Newark’s points in the frame.

Altogether, a 19-7 run of the Lions that gave them a 49-27 lead going into the last eight minutes. But despite it all, Muska noticed something about his team over the course of the last eight minutes that became an eye-opener. An unbelievable sight to behold.

They never quit.

“We got really hungry towards the end after Newark went on that run,” he said. “Everyone felt like our backs were up against the wall, and I’m beyond proud that we were able to overcome that. There’s so many kids that crumble in that kind of moment, because it’s so large of a hill to climb. Our four seniors on the floor had to keep thinking of ways to make it happen, and they did make it happen. They all led that comeback.”

Just how big of a comeback? – Try a 32-point fourth quarter for size.

The Lions knew they had to provide a two-minute drill in the game’s final eight minutes to give Newark the biggest run for their money. They were up for every bit of the challenge, as they went back to their three-point game with ease. Out of the team’s 11 they had in the midst of battle, seven of them were launched through the twine, cutting what was a 26-point deficit down to as little as four, with a whole pride of Lions getting involved to make it happen.

Helping ignite the fireworks was an Aidan Riley triple and immediately following, a thunderous two-handed jam from JJ Howard that sent the Wellsville student section into an absolute frenzy. The team would syphon every bit of energy they possibly could off the epic spike in the decibel level to apply the pressure on Newark late.

The comeback rolled on for the Lions, as they continued to hit one three-pointer after another, with Asher Billings, Logan Dunbar, Ty Vogel and Cody Costello all hitting one each in the last two minutes of play, with Costello’s ultimately allowing Wellsville to close their gap down to four points.

But the defending Class B overall champions were able to finish the job by the skin of their teeth, despite one final heave from downtown by Dunbar — his third and final triple that closed the gap back down to four again, as the Reds used clutch free throw shooting in the waning seconds to remain one step ahead until the buzzer to officially end the epic comeback bid.

“The composure for them to come back, it’s just one of many things this season has taught us as far as the many forms of adversity that we had to overcome,” Muska said. “They got stuck with a rookie coach, we had a lot of injuries to try and work through with Ty missing most of the season and Alex Green not being able to get back from injury. For them to stick with it through the entire season leading up to the title game is one thing, but to keep it going and nearly overcome a 26-point deficit, is another. It says even more.”

When it was all said and done, Dunbar was Wellsville’s leading scorer with a team-high 19 points. Riley chipped in with 11 points of his own upon being fouled out of the contest, while Asher Billings and Cody Costello followed up with nine and eight points, respectively.

Another thrilling roller coaster ride all throughout the season for the Lions has now officially come to a close, as they finish up back-to-back championship-winning seasons with a record of 14-10 overall. Wellsville will graduate six seniors at the end of the year this June, in Dunbar, Costello, Riley, Billings, Bubby Young and Jacob Hoyer.

For a program that has become Section V champions for the fourth time in the last eight seasons, the seniors that will be departing for Graduation have been responsible for the last two — something the program has never accomplished in rapid succession before.

Muska says simply, a gold standard has been set.

“I love this team, and it’s really sad to see these seniors go, because they put in so much hard work and dedication,” the first-year coach said. “They allowed us to set a precedent. A title is beautiful, and this program has had four in the last eight years. The seniors helped us to two of them in back-to-back seasons, something the team has never done before. I hope they move the goal post for this younger generation of talent that will keep making their way upward. Winning a Sectional championship, it’s something that we’ve always wanted. And we still want it.”

Wellsville 10 10 7 32 – 59

Newark 14 16 19 17 – 66

WELLSVILLE: Cody Costello 3 0-0 8, Aidan Riley 5 0-0 11, Asher Billings 3 0-0 9, Ty Vogel 2 0-0 6, JJ Howard 2 2-2 6, Logan Dunbar 6 4-7 19. Totals: 21 6-9 59.
NEWARK: Brayden Steve 4 6-7 17, Eric Finn 1 0-0 2, Daveon Wright 3 3-7 10, Raeshawn Howard 5 5-7 15, Kellen Foster 9 1-2 20, Tony Kanaley 1 0-0 2. Totals: 23 15-23 66.
3-point goals: Wellsville 11 (Billings 3, Dunbar 3, Costello 2, Vogel 2, Riley), Newark 5 (Steve 3, Wright, Foster).
Total Fouls: Wellsville 22, Newark 8. Fouled out: Riley (WLSV), Vogel (WLSV).

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