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Fillmore drops tough sectional game to private school power; B-R loses at the buzzer to Alexander

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No. 1 Fillmore nearly erases 18-point deficit to No. 4 ND-Batavia behind heroic 4th quarter revival, but Irish hang on to net upset; No. 2 Alexander nudges No. 3 B-R in dramatic last-second sequence

By CHRIS BROOKS, managing editor, wellsvillesports.com

GAINESVILLE — It simply does not get any better than this.

The pure, unadulterated conception of knowing you are that single step away from taking your place on Section V’s stage of ultimate grandeur. You can begin to sense that the emotions were at an all-time high between the four combatants that all made their way to Letchworth on Tuesday to provide two answers to the same question that was posed: Who was going to play for it all?

Like all the remaining Semifinalists at this stage of the game, including Notre Dame-Batavia, Fillmore, Bolivar-Richburg and Alexander, it was time to ring the dinner bell.

Game one of the two-game twinbill saw the No. 4 Irish and the top-seeded Eagles set the table in a grudge match from last season’s Semifinal round, in this year’s Class C3 Semifinal. In order to ascend over that blockade, Fillmore was placed in a position that they have rarely experienced this season — playing from behind the eight-ball, after Notre Dame-Batavia struck all chords early on in the battle.

Despite a deficit that reached as high as 18 points at a certain juncture of time across the first half, the Eagles showed no signs of backing down. Over the entire second half, the top seeds gave it everything they had left in their gas tanks to try and flip the momentum switch in their favor. In the fourth quarter and with the pressure higher than ever, it was now or never.

The Eagles were right there each and every step alongside Notre Dame-Batavia in the fourth quarter, getting as close as four points coming down the stretch. But the four-point degree of separation was soon branched back out by the Irish in the last minute of play, as they dug in and hung on for dear life with the aid of the free-throw line to put the finishing touches on a return trip back to the Finals, this time in the Class C3 bracket, as they knocked off the top-seeded Eagles with a 73-65 victory.

“It’s hard right now,” said Eagles coach Randy Crouch. “I feel like I didn’t have us prepared enough for Notre Dame. I didn’t really anticipate their pressure would be as effective on us as it was. We were a bit rattled when we shouldn’t have, and there were glimpses where we did what we were supposed to do and we were effective in doing that. Then it would seem like we would forget, make some poor choices and let them back in it. One of the big talking points this year is to be locked in on every single possession. The five talking points are valid every possession, and we can’t take possession off and forget. That’s when we get hurt, and that’s what happened tonight when we lost the (Ryan) Fitzpatrick kid. We knew he was a shooter, and we got caught helping when we shouldn’t have helped and he knocked down every look he had.”

It did not take long for Notre Dame-Batavia to find their groove early on, behind an overload of pressure to force Fillmore on their feet. On the attack, Ryan Fitzpatrick was able to syphon the energy developed by the defense and use it to his advantage alongside Jaden Sherwood — the two Irish scorers combining for all 18 of their first quarter points, starting the game with an 11-5 lead of the Eagles.

Along with a massive first quarter opening for Cam Mucher, as well as some assistance and the charity stripe, the Eagles were able to climb back within reach of the Irish in the midst of a back-and forth trading of runs across the frame, chipping it down to a single point to close it out.

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Despite a slight momentum burst from the top seeds entering the second quarter, Notre Dame-Batavia put it to rest with a hot spurt of their own behind another big burst of defensive pressure to force a multitude of turnovers.

They would proceed to score eight of the quarter’s first 10 points because of it, setting the pace for a stand that saw Notre Dame-Batavia keep their foot straight down on the gas pedal by producing a mammoth 25-point frame — a 25-11 run of the Eagles altogether to claim a 43-28 lead heading into the break.

After the Eagles were able to climb their way onto the board first, the No. 4 seeds picked up right where they left off from the first half to start the third quarter, as five different Irish scorers all navigated their way onto the board to propel the attack. That included a strong 7-for-10 outing at the stripe, while the defense continued to hone in on limiting Zach Sisson from the field.

He would wind up being held without a basket from the field across the first three quarters.

But despite it, it now rested solely on the shoulders of Cam Mucher and Jonah Bialek to step up and carry the team forward, as the two Eagles came together to record 39 of the team’s 65 points.

For Crouch, it was a brilliant display of resiliency to remain in the game, as well as a bright sign for the future ahead in the program.

“I’m proud of my guys, we could have tucked tail halfway through the third quarter and say that tonight wasn’t our night, but they didn’t. For Cam and Jonah, to carry the load they were able to carry, it gives me a ton more optimism on top of the optimism I already had coming into this game,” he said. “I wouldn’t have predicted that Zach was going to be held to what he was held to. Two guys were chasing him down at all times, and we even pressed a little bit to try and create for him. When we figured out it was an advantage and attacked away from him, it looked great but it got away from us. That run Notre Dame had to end the second when we had three guys on the bench in foul trouble, that wound up digging a hole that we couldn’t climb out of.”

In the last eight minute session, the Eagles showed no signs of backing down from the Irish, as they gave it every last ounce they had to keep chipping away. For Sisson, he would earn his first three points of the game after being fouled at the very top of the key in the Notre Dame-Batavia zone, knocking down all three shots to pull Fillmore within four.

But each response that the top seeds provided, the Irish had a response for it almost every time, even after Mucher and Eben Schilke were fouled out of the game, as they forced the Eagles to commence the fouling game in the last 40 seconds of play, putting a bow on the game with seven big shots in the fourth quarter to keep their lead intact until the end to evade Fillmore’s late fourth quarter comeback.

Upon being fouled out of the contest, Mucher finished with one of his best performances of the season for the Eagles, recording a game-high 26 points. Jonah Bialek knocked down three humongous triples and went a perfect 4-for-4 at the line to score 13 points, while Isaiah Sisson and JD Bialek each had seven points to add in.

The season is now over for the Eagles of Fillmore, as their marvelous 2023-24 campaign concludes with a record of 19-3 overall. The team will bid farewell to five of their seniors at the end of the school year this June, including the end of a career that saw the electrifying rise of one of Allegany County’s brightest superstars — Zach Sisson, as he joins fellow seniors Eben Schilke, Layton Sanasith, Marcus Wolfer and Brandon Buck for Graduation.

At the conclusion of the game, in a whirlwind of emotion, Crouch expressed wholeheartedly what his efforts have meant to him and the program he has helped shape.

“Zach is the pinnacle of this. He has had the best attitude for this game, and there was no primadonna-ing anything. I said to him and the kids in the locker room that I felt really bad for all the people that didn’t get a chance to see him play. They have no idea,” he said. “Tonight wasn’t his night, but Zach is going to go and be a highly successful basketball player in college, wherever he chooses. I’m just honored to have been on the bench to see him score every single one of his points. I’m looking forward to seeing how much more capable he is at the next level. I’ve had the opportunity to be around two of Fillmore’s finest players of this game in him and Matt Dean. They ask me all the time who is better, and it’s a question I refuse to answer. There are things that Zach does that I’ve never seen anyone else do, especially from where we are in Allegany County. I’m really thankful and blessed to have been his coach.”

As for the rest of his seniors joining Sisson at Graduation, Crouch went on to say that their contributions have been second to none and that they have laid down the foundation for the time to come.

“I don’t have a lot of years left to coach, but I’m just really disappointed that I won’t ever get a chance to coach more talent than what we had here this year,” the Fillmore coach said. “I’m proud of my seniors for being leaders. Everyone always says that Fillmore is a soccer school, and I spend all my time trying to build this basketball program up. Those five seniors are the foundation, and they’ve created the tradition and expectation, and have embodied what I envisioned this program being. They are exceptional human beings, exceptional students, athletes, sportsmen. At the end of the day, I would be remembered for that. I’m thankful for the school, and more so, the parents of these athletes for supporting them every night.”

With the clock striking midnight on the Eagles of Fillmore, the spectators from the first game began to file out and the newest onlookers entering the gym began to file in for the nightcap.

The spotlight was now on the shoulders of the Bolivar-Richburg Wolverines in the Class C2 Semifinal round against perhaps their toughest customer of the tournament thus far — No. 2 Alexander.

After a grueling dogfight the previous round against Wheatland-Chili to punch their return ticket to the Semifinals, it was another challenge that they would gladly accept with open arms. With Blue Cross Arena awaiting the winner come Saturday afternoon, it was one other-worldly game of chess from start to finish.

It was crystal clear and very much evident to say that the jam-packed crowd in attendance got every penny’s worth of their admission into the building.

It would begin with Bolivar-Richburg garnering the upper-hand on Alexander all across the opening half of play, seeing a lead as big as eight dwindle down into a back-and-forth affair from the second quarter all the way to the game’s bitter end, where they were able to carry a three-point lead into the break.

Through the entirety of the second half, the balance of power between both teams tilted in each and every direction all throughout. With no signs of it slowing down, it was only appropriate for the game to come down to its very last moments. The Letchworth crowd was on the very edge of its seat, especially in the final 10 seconds when an absolutely unbelievable sequence of events unraveled right before everyone’s eyes.

With very minimal time remaining, the Wolverines leveled the playing surface with the Trojans behind an incredible long range shot from the parking lot outside. But on the very next transition down the court, Alexander came back with a response of their own — a wide-open lay-in from Dylan Pohl underneath the breadbasket to give the No. 2 seeds the lead right back with four seconds left, holding onto it until the final buzzer sounded to close out one of the more dramatic finishes you may see all year long with a 52-49 win to end Bolivar-Richburg’s season.

“I didn’t want to take a timeout after King (Loucks) had made that shot. There were 11 seconds left and I wanted Alexander to scramble down the court, because they were the ones that had to call timeout. Aside from that, they worked their tails off and I really wanted better for them,” said Wolverines coach Justin Thomas. “They deserved better, and it’s tough to not pull this one out. To give Alexander credit, they worked just as hard as we did. We’re just biased if we wanted it to be us, but man do I feel for these kids. They left everything out here. It’s tough to see the hurt. You can hear a pin drop in that locker room, they are devastated upon devastated because they care and put so much into this. To have it end in a crazy fashion like this, I’d rather lose by 40. We were so close.”

It was as good of a start to their game that Bolivar-Richburg wanted to have in hand against a fast and ferocious Alexander team right out of the gate, scoring the contest’s first five points and seven of the first nine points altogether to set up shop. The Trojans fired right back after a brief timeout on the floor following the game-opening scoreless run by the Wolverines, with three straight scores themselves leading up to a strong defensive stand by the No. 3 seeds that allowed them to double their lead in size by a 12-6 count just under midway on the clock.

To remain in front with the lead, the first quarter concluded with some buzzer-beating emphasis provided by Landon Barkley from way downtown, ending it in electric fashion with a banked three-ball while under duress from a pair of Alexander defenders just a couple feet away from the top of the key to bolster their advantage to 18-10 entering the second quarter.

For Thomas, it was a start they aimed to build from the second quarter onward if they wanted to keep that extra step ahead of Alexander.

“They did a good job coming out and letting everyone know that we belong here, and we can play with anyone,” he said. “We had to set the tone coming back out for the second half. We’ve had some rough third quarters this year, and we needed to make sure this wasn’t one of them. A team like Alexander will get hot if they smell blood in the water. The boys did a great job digging in and gaining control to produce that third quarter, and put us in that position to win the game.”

With 3:02 left to play in the first half, both teams continued to make consistent runs up and down the court, with Bolivar-Richburg pushing their lead back out to as large as eight points once again on Alexander. But as soon as they garnered the room they needed to work with, the Trojans advanced forward and embarked on a 12-3 run of the Wolverines, led by a triple from the far left corner by Kingston Woods to pull them ahead by one.

The balance would keep tilting in both directions in the last minute of the half with more back-and-forth exchanges, but the Wolverines were able to get the bulk of the chances to lean in their favor, including a big basket from Barkley with seven seconds remaining off a miscue at mid-court by the Trojans to give them a 27-24 lead going into the break.

Across the second half, it was anyone’s game all the way down to the wire. In a third quarter that saw a barrage of three-pointers being traded between the two squads, the Wolverines still had the battle in their hands. They would control their own destiny in the final eight minutes of play.

The most dramatic eight minutes of the night.

Bolivar-Richburg and Alexander gave it everything they had left, with level playing ground being established almost each and every step of the way, with an Aydin Sisson runner leading the way in tying the game with the Trojans at 46. Alexander chimed in and pulled back ahead of the Wolverines with 30.4 seconds left on a score off the glass and through the twine.

After a plethora of timeouts were called by each team, the time would dwindle down to the last 10 seconds of play, where the Wolverines worked the ball all the way around the arc until it found the hands of Kingston Loucks, who knocked down an incredible and thunderous three-pointer to tie the game at 49.

With time continuing to wind, Alexander then performed a mad dash back down the court and in seconds, provided an even more thunderous response from Dylan Pohl underneath the basket to break the brief deadlock in favor of a one-point Trojans lead with four seconds remaining.

“We talked about the importance of fronting him, and getting the box out on him,” Thomas said. “I do feel like we did a better job with it in the second half after he really took control of the offensive rebounds in the first half alone. He was a lot to deal with, and there were a lot of times where we weren’t in the correct position to defend against that. That kept pace with us to circumvent things in the end.”

After Bolivar-Richburg called for time to draw up one final play beginning at their own defensive base line, the inbound pass nearly connected with Aydin Sisson on the run past mid-court. But after a leaping grab in the air, followed by an immediate foul with two seconds left, it would essentially seal the win for the Trojans after connecting with one heroic shot at the free throw line out of two to cling onto a three-point victory in an absolute thriller.

The Wolverines were led by Loucks on offense, scoring a team-leading 13 points. Landon Barkley and Reiss Gaines each had nine points, while Brayden Zilker sank a pair of clutch second half triples, for six points.

The season is now officially history for Bolivar-Richburg, as they put a wrap on yet another brilliant season on the hardwood with a record of 17-6 overall. The team will say goodbye to seven seniors at the end of the school year in Sisson, Gaines, David Abdo, James Margeson, Caden Giardini, Trevor Pforter and Caleb Miller.

The program has seen a vast amount of success since Thomas made his arrival to the boys program just a couple of years ago. But since that time, the third-year coach says that his group of seniors were a big reason why.

“I can’t say enough about that group of guys. There’s seven guys that have put everything into this program over the years. My heart goes out to them because it’s a hell of a way to end your career, and it’s going to be really tough to see the forest through the trees for some of them for a bit on this one,” he said. “I hope they can get to a place where they can be proud of what they’ve accomplished. They’ve done things in the last two years that has not been done in quite some time. Getting here twice, a lot of guys haven’t been able to get here once. Four Sectional wins, two very good seasons, we had Aydin hit 1,000 and the kids continued to develop into some great basketball players as time went on. They are not only that, but even more so as phenomenal people. I can’t wait to see what they do in the future.”

Class C3 Semifinals

Notre Dame-Batavia 18 25 15 15 – 73

Fillmore 17 11 18 19 – 65

ND-BATAVIA: Makyell Walker 3 1-3 7, Ryan Fitzpatrick 7 4-4 21, Jay Antinore 3 5-8 11, Chase Antinore 3 2-2 9, Jaden Sherwood 9 4-4 23, Mavrik Hall 0 2-3 2. Totals: 25 18-24 73.

FILLMORE: Cam Mucher 10 5-7 26, Marcus Wolfer 1 0-0 3, Isaiah Sisson 3 1-1 7, Zach Sisson 0 5-5 5, Jonah Bialek 3 4-4 13, Brayden Hennard 1 0-0 2, Jameson Rhett 1 0-0 2, JD Bialek 3 1-2 7. Totals: 22 16-19 65.

3-point goals: ND-B 5 (Fitzpatrick 3, C. Antinore, Sherwood), Fillmore 5 (Jo. Bialek 3, Mucher, Wolfer).
Total Fouls: ND-B 17, Fillmore 24. Fouled out: Sherwood (NDB), Schilke (FIL), Mucher (FIL), Z. Sisson (FIL).

Class C2 Semifinals

Bolivar-Richburg 18 9 12 10 – 49

Alexander 10 14 13 15 – 52

BOLIVAR-RICHBURG: Aydin Sisson 2 0-0 5, Landon Barkley 3 1-2 9, Brayden Zilker 2 0-0 6, Waide Karnuth 2 0-0 4, Reiss Gaines 3 2-2 9, James Margeson 1 0-0 3, Kingston Loucks 5 0-0 13. Totals: 18 3-4 49.

ALEXANDER: Kingston Woods 4 0-0 9, Trenton Woods 6 3-5 16, Paul Schmitt 1 0-0 3, Dylan Pohl 11 2-3 24. Totals: 22 5-8 52.

3-point goals: B-R 10 (Loucks 3, Barkley 2, Zilker 2, Sisson, Gaines, Margeson), Alexander 3 (K. Woods, T. Woods, Schmitt).
Total Fouls: Alexander 8, B-R 14. Fouled out: None.

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