Dana Hand, left and David Shay, right, from the Allegany County Deputy Sheriff’s Association award Hornell’s Gennaro Picco an MVP award after the Red Raiders win.
Photos and story by CHRIS BROOKS, managing editor, wellsvillesports.com
As the clocked ticked down on the Wellsville and Hornell girls’ game, you could feel the atmosphere growing as more and more spectators continued to file in to the Alfred State College Orvis Activities Center.
They were there to witness the first battle between the Wellsville and Hornell boys since that day in the Class B2 Semifinal round last February, the anticipation for another tight battle found itself going straight through the roof.
In the experiences they have shared in year’s past, it came to no surprise that the initial foresight of this year’s first renewal was right on the money.
Across what was a game that Wellsville claimed control of, the Red Raiders had to act fast after finding themselves in a seven-point hole going into the break. The goal for the second half was written on the wall: embrace the environment.
The balance of power was leaning in Wellsville’s direction at the start of the second half, and by the time the third quarter closed up, it was a brand new ball game with the playing grounds now close to level. In the case of Hornell, they needed that one final spark to flicker into a complete flame in order to finish off a potential game-changing power shift.
Like the great Allen Iverson, Gennaro Picco was The Answer.
With just over two minutes gone in the final eight minutes the night had to offer the packed Alfred State crowd, Hornell provided their turning point on defense, forcing Wellsville to turn the ball over off back-to-back possessions — the latter of which saw the Red Raiders sharpshooter find nothing but twine from the parking lot, finishing off a 15-point fourth quarter to put the team on his back and towards the comeback victory by a 52-44 decision to complete the Sheriff’s Classic sweep once again for the Seneca Street Zoo.
Hornell senior forward Xzavier Patrick added, “I love it, rivalry games have great energy. The loudness of the student sections, the intensity … you can feel it on the court. I love it. I love the energy. We go hard at practice and the little things matter. That proved tonight, the little things we work on helped us get the ‘dub’ tonight.”
Genarro Picco, the MVP of the game said he had a plan going into the decisive fourth quarter.
“In the fourth quarter, I was thinking, ‘Get to the bucket and score.’ If they collapsed, then create for my teammates and kick it out,” Picco said. “But keep attacking, keep shooting. We pushed each other to play good defense and it turned into offense … It’s fun playing in front of a packed crowd, there was so much energy.”
“Tonight was a gut-check. Down seven at the half, I’ve had teams before that might have crumbled in the past in a big environment, going against a rival, it’s very easy to cave to it and fall down 10 or 11, and the game gets away from you,” Red Raiders coach Kirk Scholes said. “But we came out with great energy in the third quarter by getting some great stops. I think this might have been a turning point in the season for us when it came to playing with toughness and energy. As the game went on, we got more and more stops defensively and you could see the kids start to feed off it.”
Scholes added on what was another submission into the storied Wellsville-Hornell classic battles, noting that “I’ve been doing this for 15 years, there have not been many games between us and Wellsville that are more than six to eight, even 10 points. A lot of games come down to the fourth quarter, come down to the wire. It’s a great rivalry that has gone on for a long time and brings out the best in both teams. I’m happy to be a part of it. The energy is great, the intensity is high and I think both communities love it.”
Before Hornell (10-1) was able to flip the contest completely on its head in the fourth quarter, they had to fight through some first half struggles that allowed Wellsville to capitalize on, beginning right out of the gate with back-to-back three-pointers off the hand of Cooper Brockway to put the Lions on the board with a 10-5 lead in the first two minutes.
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The Red Raiders would close the gap to three on two different occasions, all in between a Ty Vogel triple for the Lions (4-8), with a PJ Picco triple at the end of the back-and-forth sequence to bring it back into single-possession territory with 90 seconds left. To ensure the early burst of momentum remained with the team in black and orange, JJ Howard would use his defense as his best offense to aid in closing the frame out, as he swiped the ball away from Hornell and went off to the races.
With no one behind him in sight, the Wellsville junior soared up and laid down a monster two-handed jam to complete what was a 19-13 lead going into the second quarter.
“I was talking to Cooper before the game and I told him that if he hit a second three-pointer today, he had better point to me. And that second one he had, it was in the first three minutes. We got that right out of the way and we were able to get JJ going soon after that, finishing up the quarter with that dunk. It was as exciting as it could have gotten,” said Lions coach Tom Muska. “We put things on the board. We asked the guys what they wanted to be known for, and JJ said for our defense. We wanted to come out with a smile and play with confidence, and that’s what gave us our opening.”
With the offense springing to life across the second quarter, the action would cool off in favor of a more defensive approach. With two minute remaining in the half, the two squads combined to record just seven points — the majority of which belonging to the Lions, who remained in front with a seven-point lead when a JJ Howard fadeaway jumper near the shot clock’s expiration, as well as a Karson Grover teardrop served as the final say for Wellsville’s strong finish to the first half.
“We didn’t start the game well defensively. We struggled a bit with communication and I don’t think we were in the right spots. We didn’t play our style of defense, and we wound up going to the 1-3-1 a little bit and it slowed them down,” Scholes said. “We were going back and forth between those defenses to try and keep Howard out of the paint and figure out who their shooters were, who we had to close out on. Once we did that, we started to get more comfortable.”
Comfortable was the right adjective for Hornell’s start to the second half.
After regrouping in the locker room, the Red Raiders turned the heat up on the Lions, and with it came the points. Led by a long Wyatt Evingham triple and a great pass inside from Gennaro Picco to PJ Picco, they were able to establish a run that saw them score seven of the first nine points to tie the game up at 29 on each side with 3:45 remaining. From that point to the end of the frame, many back-and-forth exchanges would occur before Vogel’s long shot from just inside the arc allowed the Lions to springboard their way back into the lead with a 35-33 advantage.
Just over two minutes in however, it was Hornell’s time to shine. The Red Raiders defense came in through the clutch, providing two straight turnovers forced against Wellsville to lean the momentum fully in their favor, with the latter of the pair resulting in the first of an array of baskets for Gennaro Picco to take the game over with.
The three-pointer began a scoreless jaunt for the Red Raiders that saw them score seven straight points, and then nine with 1:17 left to play behind another tough basket from Picco on a drive to the rim against JJ Howard underneath, as Hornell went forth to complete their second half rebound in style.
Picco would finish with 15 points in the fourth quarter, and 29 for the game to lead Hornell in what was a MVP honor he shared alongside Howard — a first for the Barkley Showcase.
Following behind him for the Red Raiders were PJ Picco and Aaron McInerney, both recording seven points. As for the Lions, Howard concluded the evening with a team-high 22 points. Cooper Brockway finished with 11 points — nine off three of the team’s four triples from beyond the arc, while Ty Vogel finished with six.
As for the outlook ahead, Muska says that his Lions crew just has to keep on fighting when they resume play after the weekend.
“We have to fight the plateau. We always talk about progressions and how they are never linear. It doesn’t always get better every week. We started 0-5, then we went 4-1 and now two tough losses,” he said. “They hurt, and every loss hurts. But we have to keep fighting and keep trying to get better so by March, we will be playing our best basketball of the season.”
J.J. Howard was named a game MVP with 22 points.
“It was fun, it’s like everybody’s dream, You want to play against your rival in a college gym. But we wanted to win, we wanted to play with intensity and win the battle of the boards’ Howard said. “To win these games, we just have to keep our composure. We lost more than five seniors from last year and we are competing with a lot of good teams. We need to put it all together and come away with the dub.
Ty Vogel added, “It’s a really cool atmosphere and to play against your school rivalry and complete all the way through is a blast. Our team chemistry has improved a lot from the beginning of the year until now, We are afamily, we all get along. Tonight, we had a few turnovers late, but it’s coming together. “
Without a shred of doubt, it is the most notorious high school rivalry around. On the basketball court, the stakes have never been higher whenever Wellsville and Hornell collide.
We saw a prime example of that last year when the two elite boys squads converged in the late stages of the Class B2 Sectional Tournament inside the field house at Wayland-Cohocton. That game served as the lone stepping stone that separated them from a trip to the grandest stage in all of Section V – Blue Cross Arena in downtown Rochester.
You hit the fast-forward button on your metaphorical remote control to the present moment, and this year’s Dan Barkley Showcase, in its grand return to Alfred State College, may have never meant more than right here and now for both programs.
The Showcase in year’s past has served as midseason gauge for all 12 participants, as the process of putting all the pieces of the puzzle together in time for that big Sectional run, now begins once again.
Listed below are the next games for all four teams in the Sheriff’s Classic:
Hornell Boys: vs. Newark at Keuka College, Monday 4 p.m.
Hornell Girls: vs. Geneseo, Monday 4:30 p.m.
Wellsville Boys: vs. Avoca-Prattsburgh at Keuka College, Monday 2 p.m.
Wellsville Girls: vs. Cuba-Rushford, Wednesday 7:30 p.m.
Wellsville 19 8 8 9 – 44
Hornell 13 7 13 19 – 52
WELLSVILLE: Karson Grover 2 0-0 4, Cooper Brockway 4 0-0 11, JJ Howard 9 4-4 22, Ty Vogel 2 1-1 6, Alex Green 0 1-2 1. Totals: 17 6-7 44.
HORNELL: Gennaro Picco 11 5-7 29, Xavier Patrick 3 0-0 6, PJ Picco 3 0-0 7, Aaron McInerney 3 0-0 7, Wyatt Evingham 1 0-0 3. Totals: 21 5-7 52.
3-point goals: Wellsville 4 (Brockway 3, Vogel), Hornell 5 (G. Picco 2, P. Picco, McInerney, Evingham).
Total Fouls: Wellsville 14, Hornell 5. Fouled out: None.