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Bowen delivers a dagger to Hamburg’s upset bid

IN THE PAINT — Jeremiah Bill and Hamburg fell short to Iroquois. Photo courtesy of Ron Larson.
Iroquois found itself down by eight points early in the fourth quarter and trailing by two in the final seconds of Saturday’s game.

The situation was a little less daunting, however, because the Chiefs have Phil Bowen. They put the ball in the hands of the senior point guard and as usual, he delivered.

Bowen scored 12 of his game-high 22 points in the fourth quarter, including nailing the winning 3-pointer with 25 seconds to play, as Iroquois remained alone in first place in ECIC Division II with a 46 – 44 win Feb. 8 at Hamburg.

“We’ve done a lot of conditioning in practice and that kind of showed at the end when we had our legs, so we were able to press, get turnovers and hit big shots,” Bowen said. “We were doing fine, but just making some stupid mistakes. We knew if we limited our mistakes, we could win this game.”

The Chiefs improved to 8-2 in the division and remained a game ahead of Williamsville South heading into the final week of the season. The teams play in their regular season finale on Feb. 13.

“The best part about my boys is that they never give up; they’ve got the heart of lions,” Iroquois head coach Sean Lauber said. “When it really gets tough, they never stop. We’ve had so many games like this where they just pick it up, start attacking and the momentum shifts. The way it ends is a beautiful thing.”

What frustrated Hamburg head coach Tim Bueckl the most was not so much being unable to hold the lead, but that he and his team knew Iroquois would go to Bowen down the stretch, and still, they could not to stop him. The Bulldogs fell to 8 – 7 overall and 5 – 5 in ECIC II.

“What it comes down to in a game like that is that you have to make plays,” Brueckl said. “They have the best player in the league [in Bowen], by far. The kid said, ‘Give me the ball’ in the fourth quarter and he made a couple of unbelievable drives and finishes and then made an unbelievable shot at the end. He hit a contested three with hands in his face.”

Hamburg did a good job containing Bowen through the first three quarters but when it meant the most, the division’s top scorer stepped up, hitting the winner down two points in crunch time.

“I was a little bit off all night,” Bowen admitted. “I just did my favorite step back move and hit it. That’s kind of my role: be the guy to take the last shot.”

Hamburg had two opportunities at long outside shots in the final seconds but both hit the rim short. Iroquois added a free throw with two seconds left. The Bulldogs, whose biggest lead was 40 – 32 early in the fourth, missed the front-end of a one-and-one at the free throw line with 38 seconds left to keep the game at 44 – 42.

“We did a good job; we knew they were going to shoot and they only hit four threes,” Brueckl added. “I think we didn’t block out in spurts there in the fourth quarter and they got a couple of second chances that they shouldn’t have got with our size and in the zone.”

Brandon Pierce led Hamburg with 10 points, including a pair of threes. Guards Tim Kane and Brendan Ryan added 9 and 8 points, respectively. Zach Emer added 9 for Iroquois and played tough on the boards, while Josh Pieczynski had 7.

It was another tough loss for Hamburg, which has found itself on the cusp but falling short of garnering big wins against top four teams from the division. The Bulldogs did defeat third-place Williamsville East and fourth-place Sweet Home in consecutive games, but lost second-half leads to both the top two teams. Hamburg finished the division season against East and Sweet Home, before the regular season finale hosting rival Frontier on Friday, Feb. 14.

“Every game we’re right there with these teams that may be more talented,” said Brueckl, whose team projects as a seven seed that would have to go on the road in the quarterfinals of the playoffs. “But when it comes down to making a play or a shot, we just don’t have that right now. It’s hard to beat a team three times in a year and I think our boys will look forward to getting another shot to play those guys.”

Frontier came into this week having lost four of five games. After a 49 – 31 win against Orchard Park on Feb. 4, the 5 – 10 Falcons fell to Williamsville North 85 – 60, a day later, and Jamestown 66 – 44, on Feb. 7.

In avenging an earlier-season loss to O.P., David Rajski led Frontier with 16 points and 15 rebounds, while Jay Bergmann added 12 points and 6 assists and AJ Licata, 10 points and 7 rebounds. Bergmann had 21 points and Licata, 20, against North. Against Jamestown, Rajski recorded 17 points and 6 rebounds.

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