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Bulldogs give McKinley a run before falling short in semis

HAMBURG AT BUFF STATE — Hamburg’s Tim Kane goes up for layup with Jeremy Kelley in hot pursuit. McKinley pulled out a 49-37 win Thursday at Buffalo State. Photos courtesy of Ron Larson.

Hamburg went toe-to-toe with the defending Class A state champion and for three-and-a-half quarters, looked as though it could, in fact, beat McKinley and move on to the sectional final.

With five minutes left in the A-2 semifinal, Hamburg found itself down by three, but McKinley finished the game scoring 11 of the last 13 points to escape with a 49-37 win Thursday (Feb. 27) at Buffalo State College.

Hamburg got into the bonus early in the fourth quarter, but head coach Tim Brueckl said his team was not aggressive enough from there and when it did get to the free throw line, the Bulldogs did not covert, finishing the game 10 for 21. Twice they missed the front end of a one-and-one in the fourth and McKinley went the other way to score.

“We said we’ve got to get to that last four or five minutes, with a shot to win and we did but then we missed free throws and got beat in transition,” Brueckl said. “We had a little lapse and all of a sudden, a three-point game became eight or nine and with the way we were scoring and the way they were playing defense that was too much for us.”

There were certainly nerves, with Hamburg not having played at Buffalo State since 2003, and McKinley contributed to some of those first-time mistakes with a young and deep team that was aggressive trapping in the full-court. The seventh-seeded Bulldogs advanced with a road win at No. 2 Iroquois the round prior.

“I think there were a lot of times that we could have drove but got too passive and I think there were times we drove but went the wrong way to bad spots and turned it over,” Brueckl said. “McKinley does a great job with their defense — they have five guys who fly all over the court and they rotate them in.”

McKinley head coach Zaire Dorsey credited Hamburg for slowing down the game and using its size up-front to make it hard for the Macks to run their offense. But in the fourth, third-seeded McKinley was able to pick up the pace and play a game more to its liking, he added.

McKinley had only three senior hold-overs from last year’s team, while several sophomores had to be pulled up to the varsity this season. Dante Thompson finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds and Varin Lenard notched 16 points and 11 boards. Sophomore guard Jaylen Prophet also made an impact in scoring 7 points, while Devin Morris scored 5 big points in the fourth.

“We got some rebounds and got some outlets for layups and got some of their guys in foul trouble,” he said of his team’s fourth quarter success.
HAMBURG AT BUFF STATE — Hamburg’s Brandon Pierce scores two of his team-high 14 points, but defending state champion McKinley held on for the win.

Hamburg senior forward Brandon Pierce played tough in the paint, finishing with a team-high 14 points, including notching a put-back to pull Hamburg to as close as it would get in the fourth quarter. He also drilled a fall-away three at the halftime buzzer to bring Hamburg within 20-19 of McKinley at the break.

The Bulldogs (11-10) took an early lead in the second half and kept the game within reach, ending the third quarter down 32-30. But Jeremiah Bill, who’s part of a big trio on the front line, also with Griffin Ryan and Pierce, never got going due to foul trouble and picked up his fourth during the first possession of the final quarter.

After Hamburg had cut the lead to 48-45, McKinley’s Lenard answered with a three-point play with 4:30 left in the game to swing the momentum. Also in foul trouble throughout, Pierce fouled out with 2:36 left and Hamburg trailing by nine.

Ryan added 9 points, to cap a standout three-year varsity career, while fellow senior Tim Kane also had 9 points, including knocking down a pair of threes. Joe DeGrood gave Hamburg quality minutes up front, taking a few charges along the way, according to his coach.

“We never got into a good rhythm with our starters, because Jeremiah went to the bench right away with two fouls and Pierce was to the bench with two fouls five minutes in,” Brueckl said. “We didn’t have much of a rotation to go to and in the end, I think it gassed us a little bit.”

Brueckl liked his team’s defensive effort, saying that to hold McKinley to 49 points was a feat all on its own. He quipped that he’s seen McKinley on tape score more than 30 points in one quarter alone this season. He added that he couldn’t have asked for more than to see his players give it their best shot, even if that left the team just a bit short.

“We were right there,” Brueckl said. “It’s a sad thing to see this team end up at 11-10. Making it out here was a great accomplishment but if a few things go our way, I think we’re sitting at 16-5. We had guys who just played hard, knew their roles and did their job. They did what we asked. I told them they have nothing to be ashamed of. They came here and went head-to-head with the state champions.”
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