Thursday February 27, 2014 | By:Michael J. Petro | Sports
Jeremiah Bill and a host of Hamburg Bulldogs battle for the ball in their win on the road at Iroquois to make it to Buffalo State for the first time since the 2003 season. Photo courtesy of Ron Larson.
Hamburg has broken through. After years of rebuilding and then falling short in a home quarterfinal last season, the Bulldogs boys basketball team advanced to Buffalo State for the first time in over a decade.
In what head coach Tim Brueckl called his team’s most complete and focused effort, Hamburg ran away with a 59 – 43 win at Iroquois in the Class A-1 quarterfinals on Feb. 21.
The seventh-seeded Bulldogs started aggressively and never backed down, providing the team with the type of finish that’s been lacking at times this season. In the regular season, they fell five times by four or less points, including a late-season one-point loss to Iroquois, which came from behind for that win.
“We talked about stringing together 32 minutes,” said Brueckl, whose team improved to 11 – 9. “We’ve played really well in spurts and lost by one, lost by two. We were right there and had Iroquois on the ropes at our place and our guys were a little bitter about that one. They came in with the same mentality and thought if they could do the same thing and stay focused good things will happen.”
Iroquois head coach Sean Lauber said he saw Friday’s game as an extension of the one played a few weeks prior. Even though his second-seeded Chiefs were at home and in front of a big crowd this time around, they never were able to execute their gameplan.
“We got away from what we do, which is hustle defensively and attack the rim, and Hamburg played phenomenal ball,” Lauber said. “The game that we played two Saturdays ago never ended for them. It was a continuation and they did well. I was shocked with how well.”
Griffin Ryan led an assertive effort from the Bulldogs’ bigs, with 16 points and some key buckets as Iroquois attempted to rally. Also on a big senior Hamburg front-line, Jeremiah Bill scored 7 points and contributed with blocks, deflections and diving all over the floor, and Brandon Pierce added 6.
At the guard position, Griffin’s younger brother, Brendan Ryan, finished with 11 points, including knocking down a pair of threes, while Tim Kane added 7 points, hitting 5 of 6 free throws down the stretch.
“This has been the dream – getting to Buff State,” said Griffin Ryan, a three-year starter. “It was a great team win. My little brother stepped up, Jeremiah played his best game of the year. We made a lot of good shots…I know I wanted to come out and prove myself and other seniors did as well.”
Brueckl noted that the team worked on tweaking the offense just enough to create a better flow for the guards, aiding them in getting the ball inside.
“We’ve talked about that from the offseason, we’re going to be big and our guards have to do just enough and get it inside enough,” Brueckl said. “And guys like Griff, Jeremiah and Pierce were finishing today.”
Leading 26-14 at the half, Hamburg pushed that advantage to 20 with a 10-2 run to open the third. Iroquois got it to within 14 with 4:40 left in the fourth and then to 13 a few times in the final minutes, using a full-court trap, but continued to turn the ball over too often to get any closer.
Explosive senior guard Phil Bowen, who Lauber called one of the catalysts to bringing basketball back to Iroquois, finished with 11 points. Bowen had hit a final-second, game-winning three the last time the teams met. Behind the likes of Bowen and last year’s senior class, Iroquois made it to the Class A final. The Chiefs are a combined 27-13 the past two seasons.
“Everyone wants to come to a game and watch Phil,” Lauber said. “I give him credit for all of the work he’s done in the offseason to become one of the premier guards in Western New York.
Lucas Tait also recorded 11 points for Iroquois, while Zach Emer added 9 and Josh Pieczynski, 7, all of his coming in the second half. Lauber called Pieczynski a great shooter and attacker for this year’s team.
Brueckl said his team put an emphasis on limiting Bowen’s chances. “We knew Bowen would try to take over and we did a good job making sure we knew where he was,” Brueckl noted. “These [Iroquois] kids can score and we did a great job on them.”
Hamburg advances to Buffalo State for the first time since 2003 and will meet Buffalo City school power and three-seed McKinley on Thursday, Feb. 27. Before that, former Bulldogs’ Brueckl and assistant Vince Catarella made it there and advanced to the sectional final in 1997. Hamburg also advanced to the semifinals in 1995.
“We talked about how this can be a special group,” Brueckl said. “We told them we want to go back; it’s something you’ll remember for the rest of your lives.”