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Tip-off tourney goes to Hamburg, as it beats rival Frontier in final

TROPHY-WINNERS — Hamburg senior captains Jeremiah Bill (left) and Griffin Ryan hold up the Town of Hamburg Lions Club Tip-Off trophy after beating Frontier in Friday’s final. Photo by Michael Petro.

Even after hitting the game-winning shot on the opening night of the town of Hamburg Lions Club Tip-Off Tournament and then following it up with a game-high 12-point performance in the championship, Jeremiah Bill pointed to defense as a catalyst for Hamburg’s title.

The Bulldogs held tournament host Frontier to 25 percent shooting, during a 55 – 38 win on Dec. 6, to capture their first tip-off tournament title since the Lions Club started the competition, back in 2005.

“I say the biggest key was defense; we played hard defense,” said Bill, the tournament’s most valuable player, who is also a Trench Trophy finalist for his play as a lineman in football. “The biggest thing for us is our defense. We work hard at it and that wins us games. Coach preaches that; we’re all about defense.”

Hamburg head coach Tim Brueckl started the game with his team’s playing man-to-man defense, in anticipation of a switch to zone at some point, but that move was never necessary. He said his group worked hard to deny opportunities for senior forward David Rajski (4 points) and junior guard Jay Bergmann (11 points).

“We’ve been playing a lot of zone because of our size, but I told them we’re coming in here and guarding,” said Brueckl, who credited Tim Kane for his defense on Bergmann and his team for going inside with Rajski, in foul trouble. “You hold a team to under 40, and that’s beautiful defensive basketball.”

On the offensive end, the 6-foot-5 Bill finished 5 of 10 shooting, including two quick buckets early in the second half, in which he commanded the painted area, to stake Hamburg to a 33 – 19 advantage, its biggest lead of the game, at the time.

Fellow senior Griffin Ryan led the effort by Hamburg on the boards with a game-high 11, despite having to sit late in the first half with three fouls. He recorded seven of those on the offensive glass. Fellow big-man Brandon Pierce added 7 points and 7 rebounds, while Doug Horbachewski, also a forward, contributed 10 points, 5 boards and three steals. Griffins’ brother, sophomore guard Brendan Ryan, notched 8 points.
DRIVING TO THE HOOP — Hamburg sophomore Brendan Ryan tries to drive past Frontier junior Jay Bergmann. Photo by Michael Petro.

Already the shorter team, Frontier was without forward A.J. Licata who, on the same day, became the first Frontier football player in about two decades to be named a First Team All-Western New York, was disqualified from playing, due to two technical fouls in the game prior.

“We learned we are going to have trouble with big and physical teams,” said Frontier head coach Gary Domzalski. “We didn’t shoot the ball well, but Hamburg had a lot to do with that.”

Griffin Ryan, Kane and Bergmann all were named to the all-tournament team. Bergmann and Rajski each had 19 points in Frontier’s 76 – 74 win against St. Francis in the opening round Dec. 3. Erik Hatten had 13 points and 12 rebounds, as well, for Frontier in that game.

Not only was it the school’s first tip-off tournament title – Hamburg did not play in the competition for two years because it was in the same division as Frontier at the time – but it also avenged a lopsided loss to the Bulldogs’ rival in last year’s championship game.

“Last year, Frontier jumped on us and it wasn’t really a game from the first quarter on ... but we knew this one would be a dog fight,” Brueckl said. “In the grand scheme of things, it’s great that we won a tournament and beat Frontier but it doesn’t get us to Buff. State [for sectionals], and these kids have that in sight.”

Bill said it also felt great to now have won the last two games with their rival, after the football team earned a road game upset against eventual Stadium-bound Frontier 14 – 7.

“It’s obviously a rivalry, and it makes it so much better that we won in football here and now we’ve won here again,” he noted.

The senior put Hamburg into the championship game with a final second shot, as he cleaned up a miss from Kane, in a 56 – 55 win against Lackawanna on first night of the tournament. Hamburg, which had led most of the way, found itself down three, with less than a minute to go. Bill, Kane and Brendan Ryan each led Hamburg with 11 points that night.
COMING YOUR WAY — St. Francis and David Kennedy (middle) fell in overtime to Lackawanna in the consolation game. Photo by Michael Petro.

In the consolation game, St. Francis led most of the way, but a late surge by Lackawanna forced overtime, where sophomore Roosevelt Jones sank a final-second three-point bank shot to break the tie and sink the Red Raiders 81 – 78.

St. Francis was led by 22 points from sophomore Kiernan Barnes, while junior Kordell Holness added 19 and made the all-tournament team. Cam Smith, who led Lackawanna with 22 points, also made the all-tournament team. In the opener, St. Francis got 16 points and 8 rebounds from Trey Holness and 15 points from Maurice Burse.
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