By Chris Brooks, managing editor, wellsvillesports.com
WELLSVILLE — Hall of Fame weekend has officially hit Wellsville in full stride. For four of the newest members into the school’s prestigious halls, Liam Ebert, Jordyn Pettit, Isabel Mariotti and the late Sue Ann Livergood, their time to join it would finally come on Saturday in the midst of an all-day slate of basketball in the Lion’s Den.
In the thick of it were the Lady Lions, who took the floor after their JV counterparts engaged in a thrilling battle with Rush-Henrietta all the way to its end. When it came time to facing the Lady Royal Comets themselves, it was a game that required making the most of the opportunity.
From start to finish, Rush-Henrietta gave chase to Wellsville’s coattails, exchanging multiple runs across the first half before the fog settled in favor of a battle of wits in the second half. The Lady Lions did everything in their power to remain right alongside their opposition, but when it was all said and done, some clutch shooting shone through brightly.
Ashlyn Roberts was the Royal Comet shooting across the sky on both ends of the floor, burying a pair of key triples while leading the defense’s pressure against the Lady Lions down the stretch to extend their lead before surviving the fouling sequence in the game’s last minute and change, pulling out of Wellsville victorious with a close 48-43 edge to sweep the ladies action on the hardwood.
“Going into this game, it was a winnable game. It just came down to them making some bigger buckets during bigger moments towards the end than we did,” Lady Lions coach Michelle Alvord said. “Roberts knocked down some huge shots, and we just couldn’t find a way to limit her chances. It’s the little things that came into play and hopefully we can keep working our way through it, but I’m definitely looking forward to playing them again up there in a couple of weeks. It was an even game across the board.”
The opportunities on both sides were fairly limited through the opening stages of the first quarter. Across the three minute plateau, just one shot from the field — the game’s opening basket by the Lady Royal Comets allowed them to grab the upper-hand after some additional help came at the charity stripe soon after. After a brief exchange of three-pointers from Roberts and Natalie Adams for the Lady Lions, the visitors in black and gold remained on top until the Lady Lions provided a quarter-ending response to take the lead.
Led by the second of her five three-pointers in the game, Adams captained the Lady Lions (8-5) towards a strong finish to the frame by helping account for the last five points to claim an 11-9 advantage going into the next session.
Across the second quarter, both Rush-Henrietta and Wellsville traded a pair of scoreless runs after a 13-13 deadlock was found by the Lady Royal Comets. Since the pair of baskets from both Roberts and Jani Washington, the Lady Lions took matters into their own hands and held their opposition still to record a 7-0 run led by Adams from outside again with her third triple.
After a brief timeout on the floor, the Lady Royal Comets responded behind a stingy display of defense against Wellsville, forcing turnovers that soon turned into big points, scoring five straight to close the gap to a pair. It would ultimately stand at one when halftime arrived, as Rush-Henrietta finished the quarter with seven of the last eight points.
The momentum that the Lady Royal Comets built would carry over into the start of the second half when they began to dictate the pace of play. Behind some speed moving up the floor, along with some fast ball movement, they were able to gain the leading edge from it near midway with a 26-23 lead. As Wellsville trimmed the deficit down, the defensive pressure began to boil over once more with more turnovers forced against them — an effort fronted by Roberts on both ends of the floor once again to branch the Lady Royal Comets lead to six going into the fourth.
The Lady Lions would have to continue working their way back from behind, as Rush-Henrietta provided responses for the majority of their answers at the rim to remain in the lead. With Adams knocking down her fifth and final triple with less than two minutes to go, the hosts in white and orange were within a stone’s throw of command.
Adams would finish with a game-high 21 points to pair with seven rebounds and three steals to pace the Lady Lions attack.
“She really has been consistent all year for us. I can’t say enough about her and her leadership and energy, what she brings to the table for us. She did a great job on defense, as well as carry our offense to keep us in the game. She has begun to recognize what she is given, and she takes advantage of it.” Alvord said of her junior.
But in the end, the Lady Royal Comets would force the fouling game into effect to close out the last minute and change of the ballgame, posting three big shots at the line while the defense held Wellsville in check to exit town with a complete sweep of both girls games on the docket.
Following Adams for the Lady Lions was Makenna Dunbar, who was a rebound shy of a double-double performance, finishing with 14 points and nine boards. Jaden Dunbar had five points, while Alexa Hennessy handed out three helpers.
Prior to the Varsity contest, the Wellsville JV squad gave it everything they had in a battle that went straight down to the wire against Rush-Henrietta, as the Lady Royal Comets survived in a 26-23 victory. Leading Wellsville on offense was Hailey Cowburn, as she posted nine points.
The Lady Lions will look to rebound on the road Wednesday night with a 7 p.m. visit to Canisteo-Greenwood.
As for the boys team, they participated in a re-igniting of an old rivalry. For the first time since their Class B State Qualifier showdown back in the 2018-19 season, Greece Odyssey and Wellsville came together once again.
In their first game in nearly five years, head coach Tom Muska remembers those classic battles quite well not only as a coach, but as a player during his time as well.
“They have a terrific program and I really hope we get to have more games with them down the road. We have had a fun history with Greece Odyssey. I oddly remember a lot of overtime games with them as a player, but the rivalry really reached its peak in 2019 when the programs met at both of our arguable peaks.” he said.
When the two formidable and familiar foes came together for a night in the Lion’s Den, it was a battle that was reminiscent of those days.
It would come down to the final eight minutes of play. With a three-point lead over the Leopards, there was little room for error remaining for the Lions. With their opposition riding ever so close to their coattails, quick action was needed. As the two squads started to set the pace with back-and-forth haymakers, a potential power shift became apparent.
After a big charge was taken by the defense with close to two minutes remaining in the game, the momentum shifted course to the opposite side of the floor where the offense built off of it immensely. Especially JJ Howard.
Amongst the five baskets he had in the fourth quarter, one of those immediately followed the big defensive play after taking a nifty no-look pass from Aiden Cowburn inside the top of the key and put the finishing touches on an incredible sequence to branch their advantage out to 10 where they never looked back from that point forward, as Wellsville successfully provided the 24-hour bounce back with a 55-42 win over Greece Odyssey.
“We talked about last night’s game a decent amount. Namely how often you have a loss growing up and you just wish you could say double or nothing, or get a second chance. Tonight we were lucky enough to come out with a similar game plan to last night, and execute it much better,” Muska said. “That pass was exactly the kind of thing we were looking for. Aiden, Tyler (Vogel) and Alex (Green) were terrific tonight working to get a catch in traffic and make the right play with the ball. We had some late game adjustments that really worked for us. We have a real unselfish team, and when we can get the ball in the center of the zones, we notice that we’re making the right plays and passes.”
After the Lions (6-9) were able to connect with a strong 15-9 lead through the opening quarter, the action began to tighten up when the second frame came around. The quarter’s inception was in the hands of Greece Odyssey, who fired up a hot start by posting the first six points to tie the game at 15. Following the deadlock’s break from a long Ty Vogel triple, the defenses settled in while limiting the opportunities on both ends of the floor.
The two squads would exchange back-to-back triples, with Jayson Figueroa landing the first to trim the deficit to three for the Leopards right before Vogel put down his second of the game right before the half’s buzzer sounded to extend the advantage to 27-22 going into the locker room.
In the second half, what momentum was gained by the Lions was sidelined in favor of yet another scorcher of a start for the Leopards, posting the first six points — three of which off a long Gavin Williams-Clemons triple that propelled them into the driver’s seat with a 28-27 lead in the early-going. The run that Greece Odyssey had built was ended by the Lions, who came back with another lead change behind a pair of inside baskets from Vogel and Alex Green near midway.
The two squads would re-engage in another even exchange before JJ Howard had the third quarter’s final word on a big offensive board off an in-and-out at the rim from Vogel, finishing the play himself to set up what was a go-ahead three-point play with less than a minute remaining.
Leading by three, the Lions witnessed some more key contributions come to light from Alex Green, Aiden Cowburn and Karson Grover down the stretch
As a result, the Lions were able to ensure their lead would remain intact, despite all the pressure in the world from Greece Odyssey in the fourth quarter, as they put a wrap on a 21-11 run against the Leopards to pull away and out of reach. Howard was a big reason behind that, scoring 10 of his 18 points within the frame.
“Greece Odyssey has never been a program to give up. No one is going to hand you a win, and the 32 minutes that go by go so quickly, but mentally, it’s a marathon for the kids. Tonight, we were focused and we responded at the right times. You need to be in order to beat a team like them.” said Muska.
Along with Howard, Vogel helped lead all Wellsville scorers with 18 points of his own on the attack. Green finished with eight points, while Cooper Brockway had six points off a pair of triples.
Wellsville will look to build on their winning ways come Thursday night, as they hit the road for a 7 p.m. visit to Bath-Haverling.