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Cheektowaga Hoop’s Toughest Opponent Is Themselves

CHEEKTOWAGA — When assuming the boys basketball head coaching position at Cheektowaga Central seven years ago, Pat Cullinan never expected to be coaching a player on his way to potentially becoming the greatest scorer in Western New York history.

That is now a reality.

Cheektowaga senior Dominick Welch, a 6’5 SG, who already has one sectional title to his name, currently has 1,794 points in his varsity hoops career, which started back in his 8th grade year. Welch is sitting at the 31st spot on the all-time WNY scoring list, and he is only 3 games into his senior year. “He’s a special player. You don’t get the opportunity to coach a player like Dom often,” said Cullinan.

Coming into the 2016-17 season, one might look at the Warrior schedule and wonder if Coach Cullinan is out of his mind, scheduling Canisius, Park, Bishop Kearney, Will South, Nazareth, and St. Joe’s. Cullinan responded with this, “I don’t schedule easy. I don’t want to look at the calendar and say to my guys ‘we should beat these cupcakes.’ I wanted to take on bigger and better teams.”

With a schedule as tough as Cheektowaga’s this year, when asked who the toughest team on the calendar was, Coach Cullinan gave an unexpected answer. “The toughest team we have is ourselves. We can’t beat ourselves….We need to build a chemistry within our locker room where one guy isn’t afraid to make a risky play because another guy might get mad. We have to grow as a team together.”

The Warriors’ season began at Niagara Falls in the Cataract Classic, taking on the Bishop Kearney Kings of Rochester. In that contest, Cheektowaga was always within 10. In fact, after two quarters of play, the score was 32-31 in favor of the Kings. In the second half, the Warriors’ seemed to not run as many plays, not set as many screens, and not pass as much as they had in the first half. That caused them to lose their season opener 67-59, but to a highly skilled Bishop Kearney team. In game one, four Warriors scored: Welch had 29, senior SF Adrian Baugh dropped 13, junior PG Rudy Bragg splashed three triples for 9 total, and senior PF Vaughn Burdett added 9.

Cheektowaga took a week to recover from their first game of the year and came back the following Friday, as the Warriors headed to Canisius High School to take part in the Tom Keenan Classic tournament. Cheektowaga played Canisius on Friday afternoon, where the Crusaders kicked off their season with a bang. Canisius capped off the first half with an 18-0 run, extending their lead to 41-18 after just 16 minutes of play. Welch had 14 in the first two quarters, after the third quarter he would nearly double that, adding 13 points, and in the fourth quarter alone, Welch would add another 13, finishing with 40 points. The Warriors would lose, what some at halftime thought was a blowout, by a final score of 67-61. “If we show up in the first half, we win this game,” said Cullinan, immediately following the game.

The following day, Cheektowaga took on Nazareth of New York City, another tough opponent from out of town, in the consolation game of the tournament, where the Warriors would get their first victory on the year. With a sour taste in their mouths from Friday night’s first half gaffe, Cheektowaga came out strong in the first frame, going up 15-10, and going into halftime with a hard fought 24-23 lead. In a back-and-forth nail biting matchup, the Warriors would prevail as the victors, coming out 51-48. It seemed as though Welch was a tad tired after dropping 40 the previous night, but the team game worked for Central, as Welch finished with 14 points, and Vaughn Burdett leading him with 18.

Also something you should note, Dom Welch, in each of the team’s first three games, had a posterizing dunk on a defender.

Against Bishop Kearney, it was a baseline drive where the defender wrongfully went up with the SG from Cheektowaga and fouled him. That dunk ended up as the #1 play of the week on Channel 7.

Versus Canisius, on a fastbreak in the third quarter, Dom drove down the right side, cut in towards the hoop, cocked it back and threw it down on Canisius’ Jayce Johnson, causing the Bernard J. Kennedy Fieldhouse to erupt.

The third poster came in the fourth quarter versus Nazareth, as Welch got a pass from Baugh at top right of the key, juked around the first Kingsman guard, made a move around a second defender, and proceeded to rise up above a forward for Nazareth, and dropped in a one-handed jam with authority, drawing the and one.

Three games into the season, fans can take away three points:

1 – Cheektowaga Central is prepping themselves for a big season by playing 8 hefty non-league teams, in addition to divisional opponents like Maryvale and Starpoint.

2 – Dominic Welch is the real deal and is within reach of Richie Campbell’s WNY record of 2,335 career points.

3 – If Cheektowaga is going to do well this year, it can not simply be the Welch show. As one saw in the first two games, when Welch is mainly the only one producing, the team isn’t at it’s best. For Central to be successful, role players like Rudy Bragg, Vaughn Burdett, Adrian Baugh, and Alek Bryant need to step up within their roles and contribute constantly.

The Warriors (1-2; 0-0) travel down Union Road to take on the team that ended their season last year, the Maryvale Flyers (1-0; 0-0), on Wednesday, 12/14. “The loss last year, it was rough. I gave it everything I had, but we couldn’t win… This year, we’re gonna play even harder,” said Dom Welch on being denied a game at Buff State from the Flyers in 2015-16.

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