A battle for first

BEMUS?POINT?- Curt Fischer is not used to feeling calm during a basketball game, especially not during one that will decide whether or not his team will be league champions.

But on Thursday evening, even as he watched his Maple Grove Red Dragons slowly relinquish what had, to that point, been a double-figure lead for more than two quarters of play, he was actually feeling OK.

Guess there’s a first time for everything.

“I really have a lot of confidence in them,” Fischer said of his squad. “Even when (our lead) got down to two points, I felt like we were still making the right plays and the right decisions. They don’t get rattled, and even when the momentum shifted that severly, I didn’t feel any panic.

He added with a wry smile, “That’s a strange feeling for me.”

And, as it turned out, his newly discovered serenity was well founded.

After nearly allowing Westfield to overcome a 12-point deficit in the third quarter, cutting the host’s advantage to just five, 53-48, with a period to go, Maple Grove went on a 15-2 surge over the first four minutes of the final frame to clinch not only its 16th straight victory, 79-57, but also a third straight Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Athletic Association Division 3 crown.

Accomplishing that, Fischer noted, never gets old.

“Never,” he said. “Winning never gets old. I’m just really super proud of this team.”

Though the momentum that they’d held for much of the contest – Maple Grove, thanks to some poor shooting down low by the Wolverines early, built a 13-3 lead in the first four minutes – dissipated in the third, the Red Dragons quickly recaptured it when it mattered most.

Austin Goerke (nine points, 10 rebounds) opened the fourth period by hitting a jumper in traffic while being fouled. The call prompted an outburst by a Westfield assistant coach, which drew a technical foul call, giving Maple Grove two more free throws and the possession. And despite missing both technical free throws, the Red Dragons grabbed three straight offensive rebounds on the ensuing possession, the third of which was hauled in by Goerke, who dished back out to teammate Jimmy Kistner beyond the arc.

Kistner, as has been his style of late (he had a trio of important 3s in a recent victory over Randolph), hit nothing by net to push the lead back out to 11, 59-48, and Westfield never threatened again.

Maple Grove, over the next five minutes, scored 13 of the next 15 points – Corey Wefing had a pair of layups, Graham Soffel was pinpoint from mid-range, dropping in two jumpers and Will Soffel added his lone trey of the night – to make the score 72-50 with just over three to go.

“I just thought we had some good possessions in the fourth quarter,” Fischer said of the scoring spree. “Wefing made some great plays that picked us up, Jimmy came off the bench and hit a key 3 – those are huge, a big uplift for the team – and Graham had such a quiet, great game. He was key to the win tonight – his rebounding and short-range jumper was just outstanding.”

By quarter’s end Maple Grove had outscored Westfield 26-9, and Will Soffel had finished with a team-high 19 points and five assists. Graham Soffel added 13 points and eight boards, Wefing had 14 points with two steals and two assists and Aaron Germain netted 15 points and made four steals.

For Westfield, coach Bob North highlighted poor rebounding and turnovers as the main culprits in the loss.

“We didn’t take care of the ball,” he said. “We got in a hurry, and when you go down by eight or ten points you think you have to make that up (quickly), but you can’t. I thought they killed us on the glass, and we are so much bigger than them – that should not happen.”

The Wolverines, which finished 12-6 overall and 10-2 in league for second place, turned the ball over 25 times and were outrebounded 27-26. A close margin, yes, but North noted his team averages almost 40 boards per game.

“I think they just outhustled us,” he finished. “When we’ve got that kind of size and they outrebound us, (that just means) they went after it more than we did.”

Bright spots for the Wolverines were Jon Coe, who led with a game-high 22 points, and junior varsity callup Liam Tennies, who in his first varsity game tallied 13 points.