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  • Writer's picturetgardner1167

Niagara Catholic foils St. Mary’s comeback attempt to reach Class B final

The Niagara Catholic High School boys basketball team gave up a huge lead in Saturday’s late Class B Manhattan Cup semifinal – so the Patriots just built another one.

St. Mary’s overcame a 16-point first-half deficit to take the lead in the fourth quarter but Niagara Catholic punched back again and earned a 67-60 win over the Lancers at the Koessler Center.

“We kept our composure,” Niagara Catholic coach Giulio Colangelo said. “The kids mentally, they played it tough. They were down but they handled the adversity very well.”

The Patriots advanced to Tuesday’s Class B championship game against Cardinal O’Hara, a 54-46 winner over Nichols on Saturday. Niagara Catholic reached the title game for the second time in three years but hasn’t won since 1962 when the school was Bishop Duffy.

The road to get there wasn’t as easy as it initially seemed. Niagara Catholic led for almost all of the first three quarters but the fourth quarter saw four lead changes. Haakim Siner gave the Patriots the lead for good with 2:22 left on a baseline drive to the bucket and then added a three-point play 20 seconds later.

“It was a tough battle,” Colangelo said. “Our kids fought. We handled their run and stayed strong in the fourth quarter and prevailed.”

Niagara Catholic led by as much as 29-13 after a hot start, taking advantage of 11 first-half turnovers by the Lancers. St. Mary’s whittled the lead down to 31-20 and then senior Christian Szablewski took control in the third quarter. The future St. Bonaventure University baseball player scored 16 of his game-high 34 points in the third period and the Lancers ultimately tied the game on a Brady O’Brien bucket with 1.5 seconds left in the quarter.

Matt Ciezki canned a 3-pointer to start the third period, giving St. Mary’s the lead for the first time and it seemed like the Lancers were going to storm to a three-game season-sweep of the Patriots.

Niagara Catholic thought had other ideas.

“In the first two games (against St. Mary’s), we were getting down on each other when things went bad,” Niagara Catholic star guard Jalen Bradberry said. “This time, everyone was picking each other up. We just had to keep pushing.”

The lead was still three when Siner hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 48. Szablewski answered with a bucket for St. Mary’s but Bradberry drilled a 3-pointer to give the Patriots the lead. After an exchange of free throws, Siner nailed another triple for the lead again.  Ciezki had an answer for the Lancers to tie the score but Siner responded with his 5-0 run to put NC ahead to stay.

“He played well,” Colangelo said. “He was able to rebound well and finish strong with key buckets that pushed us ahead.”

Bradberry led Niagara Catholic with 22 points, Siner added 18 points – 10 coming in the fourth quarter – and Jaemon Turner scored 17.

The Lancers were much less balanced as Szablewski accounted for more than half of the team’s points. Ciezki finished with eight points and O’Brien seven.

St. Mary’s finished the season at 15-7 and was ultimately doomed by its slow start despite a near-epic comeback.

“We made a good push there in the third quarter,” Lancers coach Paul Rath said. “We shot better. We were very slow in the first half so we had to up our tempo a little bit. I’m not going to say we ran out of gas in the fourth but … they made some big buckets. That’s the way the ball drops sometimes. We made that strong push but we couldn’t make a key bucket when we needed one. Credit those guys, they played hard.”

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