Thursday February 27, 2014 | By:Michael J. Petro | Sports
STEPPING UP FOR THE BULLDOGS — Hamburg’s Griffin Ryan grabs a rebound during his team’s quarterfinal playoff win at Iroquois. The senior also scored 16 points. Photo courtesy of Ron Larson.
Tim Brueckl has been singing the praises of Griffin Ryan since the senior three-year varsity starter first burst on to the scene as a sophomore forward playing varsity for a head coach looking for a future leader.
Whether it was playing bigger than his size, or providing the team with grit, scoring and intangables, Ryan has been a player his head coach could count on.
The senior lived up to his head coach’s description of him and more on what became the biggest night for the boys basketball program in more than a decade. Behind a tireless effort, which included 16 points, from Ryan, Hamburg earned that program-lifting win its been looking for, earning its first trip to Buffalo State since 2003.
The Bulldogs upset Iroquois 59 – 43 as the seventh seed playing at the No. 2 in Class A-1. Iroquois had been to the sectional final just last season and beaten Hamburg both times the teams met during the 2013 – 2014 regular season. Ryan had been held to just 6 points, as Iroquois came from behind to defeat Hamburg late in the regular season, robbing the Bulldogs of yet another chance at a signature win.
Burt this time around, Ryan and company would not be denied. After helping Hamburg get out to a 26-14 halftime lead, Ryan drove to the basket for points, finished put backs and got to the free throw line. At 6-foot-3, he did all of the things you’d expect out of a leader and big man, even if that player may not exactly be a prototypical big man.
“It couldn’t have gone any better tonight for a kid like Griff,” Brueckl said. “To turn around this program over the last couple of years it’s been part and parcel due to him. He’s just a special player. At certain times when Iroquois was trying to make a run, he put us on his back.”
Ryan said that he and the seniors wanted to prove themselves and knew this could be the last chance to do so. He noted that the team had great practices before Wednesday’s home playoff-opening win over Starpoint and had another good session in between Friday’s game.
It seemed apparent on the court as Hamburg performed for all 32 minutes and did the type of things that the team needs to do in order to be successful. Ryan is joined on a menacing and lanky front-line, in which he’s the smallest player, by fellow three-year varsity senior Jeremiah Bill, who played aggressive all night, and Brandon Pierce.
“It’s just a great feeling,” Ryan said. “We’ve been putting in the work for the three years that I’ve been on varsity. And this has been the dream – getting to Buff State.”
According to Pat Cauley, athletic director and former head varsity basketball coach, the perrservance exhibited by Ryan and his teammates has been emblomatic of the coaching staff, which has gone through some lean years to get to this point. Even this year was filled with ups and downs during a 9-9 regular season. But the fight and will to get over the hump never left this group.
Included on Brueckl’s staff is last year’s key addition of Vince Catarella, a former collegiate player and like Brueckl, a Hamburg graduate
“I’m very proud of Timmy, the staff and the kids — they battled and battled,” Cauley said. “Look at the season, so many games they were right there and they just keep getting up from a tough loss. When you keep doing that, you get rewarded and now they find themselves in the semifinal.”
Thursday’s semifinal at Buffalo State presents a daunting task in playing City of Buffalo power McKinley, but don’t expect Ryan and company to back down.
“We know McKinley is a Western New York powerhouse, but we felellike we can play with them. I think we have the size and determination to beat them,” Ryan said.