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Frontier girls basketball falls just short of upsetting defending sectional champ Lockport

Natalie Galus (left) and Jocelyn Kempf played in their final Frontier game. (Photos by Michael J. Petro)

Frontier nearly beat defending Section VI champion Lockport at its own game.

It took an off-balanced runner from a freshman and then two clinching free throws in the game’s final seconds to lift Lockport to a 38-34 win over upset-minded Frontier in a better-than-expected Class AA quarterfinal on Tuesday (Feb. 26).

The seventh-seeded Falcons played Lockport’s style of deliberate slow-paced, half-court offense and defense without many substitutions to get out to a 17-8 second quarter lead and then take back the advantage midway through the fourth.

But trailing 32-30, Gretta Dry delivered second-seeded Lockport’s next six points, including what turned out to be the game-winner with 20 seconds left and the shot clock running down to propel the Lions past Frontier. Dry didn’t play like a freshman, finishing with 12 of her 14 points in the second half.

The Falcons turned the ball over on their next possession and sent experienced guard Alexis Cheatham to the line where she nailed both free throws, for two of her seven points, with 17 seconds left to make it a two-possession game.

Frontier’s all-time leading scorer Natalie Galus had calmly sank two free throws with 54 seconds to tie the score at 34 apiece. She finished an outstanding four-year varsity career with a team-leading 14 points.

Lockport knocked Frontier out of the playoffs in the same round last year, but this season, even as the No. 1 ranked large school in Western New York, it was much more of a challenge.

“Obviously, we came to Lockport, who beat us here last year, and it’s not easy to travel in the playoffs and this is a bigger court,” Frontier head coach Rick Mihalik said. “The biggest thing I was happy with is that we came out ready to play against the No. 1 team in Western New York and we were on top at the half and in the fourth quarter.

“Dry hit a circus shot with five seconds left on the shot clock,” he added. “You’ve got to applaud her and Lockport for pulling it out.”

In addition to finishing the game on an 8-2 run, Lockport scored six straight points midway through the third quarter to give the Lions their first lead since early in the game. The advantage was stretched as far as 26-21 on a Sarah Franco put back.

“In the first half, we were not shooting well from the wings,” longtime Lockport head coach Bill Shaw said. “I figured Rick would throw something at us and I said to them, ‘you’re going to have to knock down some shots.’ Their footwork was terrible in the first half and they were rushing shots. But we kind of got relaxed at halftime and came out and knocked down the shots they need to.”

Frontier played a sound first quarter to take a 12-5 lead and then made some crucial shots to extend that advantage to nine points a few minutes into the second quarter. But a scoring drought for the remainder of the quarter allowed Lockport to finish the half on a 6-0 run and cut the deficit to 17-14.
The Lipka sisters, Kaitlyn (left) and Caisey, played well at guard to help Frontier stay close to Lockport.

Down four points going into the fourth, Frontier was not about to give in as it started the quarter on an 8-2 run. Freshman Lexi Rockey scored four of her eight points during that span. Junior guard Caisey Lipka, who also finished with eight points, had hit a key three-pointer to help slow Lockport’s momentum late in the third quarter.

“I think we kind of relaxed and thought, ‘we’re good now’ but Frontier never gave up, never quit and actually took the lead,” Shaw said. “But credit to my kids, they hung tough.”

Mihalik’s biggest concern was whether his team would have trouble rebounding against a Lockport team with more size and at times, he thought the Lions did benefit from second and third chances on the offensive glass.

Senior Jocelyn Kempf did all she could to provide the Falcons with tough defense in close to the glass and rebounding. Although Franco was held to two points, fellow Lockport forward Alyssa Wagner finished with 10 points playing effectively in the post in the high-low offense.

Mihalik hopes that the example of Galus and Kempf leaves an impression on his young team that has high hopes for the future and will have this performance to build on.

“I don’t know if I’ve had two seniors like them who have put in the time and work in the offseason,” Mihalik said. “They’re going to be missed as people and basketball players.”
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