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Rajski catches fire to lift Frontier to win at rival Hamburg

ON FIRE — David Rajski goes up for a block defensively earlier in the season, but it was his offense that was so noteworthy on Friday as Frontier avenged an earlier-season loss to Hamburg. Photo by Michael Petro.
The game may have been played inside Hamburg’s gymnasium on senior night, but it was Frontier’s David Rajski who held court.

The senior big man showed off his shooting touch, torching Hamburg for 18 first quarter points and then scoring 11 more in the fourth quarter to top off a 31-point night in Frontier’s 66 – 65 win against the host Bulldogs on Feb. 14.

Rajski nailed seven of eight 3-pointers in an unconscious performance that, at times, even had the senior looking to be in disbelief. Frontier ended the regular season with consecutive wins, finishing 7 – 11.

“I was just playing on emotion — it was a big game, last regular season game of my senior year; it just came to me,” said Rajski, who missed some time earlier in the year with an injury. “I haven’t shot well all season long until this game. It felt really good to shoot that way.”

The final night of the regular season turned out to be an entertaining one, despite the Falcons getting out to a commanding 12 – 0 lead and building it to 17 early in the third quarter. Hamburg went on an 18-0 run of its own, to end the third with its first and only lead of the game 50 – 49.

“Digging out of a 12-point hole is never easy, but we fought back and caught them, but then we had some bad possessions and took some bad shots,” Hamburg head coach Tim Brueckl said. “We’ve been saying that mental toughness and concentration is the margin of victory and that’s what it was tonight.”

That’s when Rajski, who had only 2 points in the second and third quarters combined, went back to work. He hit three more from beyond the arc in the fourth to extend the Falcons lead to 66 – 62 with 2:30 left in the game. Frontier held the rest of the way, as Hamburg had the ball for a final shot, but missed a long jumper at the buzzer.

“Dave was fantastic ­— he didn’t miss a shot in the first half,” Frontier head coach Gary Domzalski said. “We were trying to figure out how to get him the ball more. Obviously, that had a lot to do with them denying him the ball. He wanted it in the fourth quarter, and you always dream that your senior is going to want the ball down the stretch.”

Junior Jay Bergmann had quite the game himself. The Frontier guard and the team’s leading scorer this season finished with 22 points, including a pair of threes. At times, he and Rajski were playing a two-man game that was almost impossible to stop.

“Dave and Jay were very tough down the stretch,” said Domzalski, who noted that Bergmann had a terrific summer of playing ball. “Sometimes that early lead is like fool’s gold. We talked about Hamburg making a run and how we were going to react to it. Their shoulders slumped a little, but then Bergmann and Rajski got us back in there and we made some stops defensively. It was a great high school game.”

Brandon Pierce led Hamburg with 16 points, and was a force during the team’s third quarter comeback, at one time reeling off five straight points. But he had to sit late in the quarter and into the fourth with foul trouble.

Junior Kyle Munro had a career night for Hamburg, with 12 points, while Griffin Ryan added 9 points and fellow seniors Jeremiah Bill and Tim Kane each added 7. Munro scored 8 of those points in the first half to keep Hamburg within striking distance at 41 – 30 at the intermission. Ryan hit a putback with 18 seconds left in the game to bring Hamburg back to within 1 point.

“We talked about digging yourself a hole and using all of your energy to fight back and falling short in the end isn’t good enough,” said Brueckl, whose team finished the regular season at 9 – 9 and will be the seven seed in a Class A-1 bracket that features a pretty wide open draw at the top. “This is a resilient group but it’s not about resiliency anymore; it’s about execution.”

Domzalski credited senior bigs Pat Quinlivan and Nick Shaul for contributing despite being in foul trouble. A.J. Licata added 8 points and played with his typical grit and determination, according to Domzalski.

Licata did not play in the first game between the two teams, when Hamburg ran away with the final of the Lions Club Tournament back in December. This time around, Frontier emphasized not giving up easy baskets down low and cutting down Hamburg’s offensive boards. And having Licata back helped in that, Domzalski said.

“I was nervous,” Rajski admitted. “I didn’t know what to expect, after they came to our place and beat us last time. We started off hot and we just kept playing throughout the game and never gave up.”

That especially goes for Rajski, who put on a show for the first and fourth quarters to get Frontier what the senior said he believes could be momentum-shifting victory going into the Class AA playoffs.

“Hats off to Rajski. He came into our gym, where it’s hard to shoot, and hit seven threes,” Brueckl said. “If you’re a shooter and you’re feeling hot and guys are leaving you open, that will happen.”

Eighth-seeded Frontier will host No. 9 West Seneca West in the pre-quarterfinal round, on Wednesday (Feb. 19). The same two teams met in the same situation last season and West came out with the upset win. The Falcons beat West in both meetings during the regular season. The winner travels to top-seeded Jamestown on Friday, Feb. 21.

Hamburg came back to beat Williamsville East 64 – 63 on Feb. 11, using a 24 – 14 spurt in the third quarter. Pierce led the Buldogs with 23 and Ryan added 13. Two days later, Hamburg fell to Sweet Home 56 – 55 in overtime, despite coming back from down nine in the final 1:30 of the game. Mark Myles scored his only 5 points in the final minute of the game. Kane led Hamburg with 15 points, while Pierce added 12 and Calaeb Wood, 9.

Hamburg hosts No. 10 Starpoint on Wednesday (Feb. 19). The teams played two tight games, splitting the season series. The winner travels to No. 2 Iroquois on Friday, Feb. 21. The Bulldogs recently had Iroquois on the ropes before falling on a last-second shot. Five of their nine losses have been by four points or less. Three were by one point.

“We’re right there. I mean, this is by far the best team we’ve had in a number of years,” Brueckl said. “Record-wise, its got the same record as the past couple of years, but a couple bounces this way or calls this way, we easily could be sitting here 14-4.”

Even during this difficult season for Frontier, the Falcons were able to salvage a senior night win, defeating Oracle 87 – 41 the night prior to the game against Hamburg. All five graduating seniors were contributors in the win, as Rajski scored 21 points and grabbed 8 rebounds; Quinlivan added 13 points and 15 rebounds; Licata, 6 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists and took 2 charges; Shaul, 4 points and 6 rebounds; and Erik Hatten, 4 points and 5 rebounds.

Bergmann led the team in the win with 22 points, to go along with 7 boards. He also had 12 points the game prior, in a 71 – 55 loss to Lancaster, which closed Frontier ECIC I season out with a 3 – 9 mark. Also in that game, Jake Gleason notched 13 points and Mike Evancho, 12.

For the girls playoffs, fifth-seeded Frontier (11-6) had a bye into the quarterfinals, where the Falcons will meet No. 4 Lockport on Tuesday, Feb. 25. The two teams met in the same situation last season in a game won by Lockport in the final minutes. The winner goes to Kenmore West on Friday, Feb. 28 for a semifinal against, in all likelihood, top-seeded Jamestown.

After an opening–round bye, fourth-seeded Hamburg (12-5) will take on No. 5 Williamsville East at home on Thursday, Feb. 20. The two teams split a pair of regular season games. Hamburg finished in a three-way tie for first place in ECIC II - with Williamsville South and Starpoint at 9-3, giving it a third straight divisional title. The winner plays in the semifinal round on Tuesday, Feb. 25 at Kenmore West.

Ninth-seeded Lake Shore (7-11) opened playoff action on Tuesday, Feb. 18 at No. 8 Pioneer in the Class A-1 pre-quarterfinals. The two ECIC III teams split their season series. The winner moves on to top-seeded East Aurora on Thursday, Feb. 20.

On Tuesday, Feb. 18, fifth-seeded Eden (8-10) hosted No. 12 Medina in a Class B-1 pre-quarterfinal. The winner will play on Thursday (Feb. 20) against the victor of the 4-Bennett/13-Dunkirk game. Seventh-seeded North Collins (2-15) travels to No. 2 Clymer on Thursday, Feb. 20 in the Class D quarterfinals. The winner plays Tuesday, Feb. 25 at Chautauqua Lake.

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