Guys got next

After a couple of years dominated by Dunkirk’s boys basketball team, Fredonia, over the course of the last two seasons, has reeled off three straight wins over its arch rival.

They will look to make it a fourth-straight win tonight when the two teams meet in the gym at Dunkirk Senior High School.

“Certainly our kids feel that way,” Fredonia head coach Greg Lauer said, when asked if his players had made sweeping Dunkirk a goal this season. “Some of the seniors I’ve had (on the team) for four years, so this will be the eighth time they’ve played them. Dylan Meyer suffered through losing all four games to them when he was a freshman and sophomore, and certainly him and some others have set the goal to sweep them the last two years.”

The first time the teams met, on Dec. 20, the Hillbillies walked away with a 73-53 win. But Lauer noted that games at Dunkirk can turn out decidedly different than when the Hillbillies are defending their home court.

“I think we just have to keep the game uptempo,” Lauer said. “Last year, we blew them out by 30 at home, but it was a two-point game when we went there. It’s a much different ball game when you go to Dunkirk’s gym, so we just have to keep trying to play our game.”

Dunkirk head coach Steve O’Brien, who is in his first year after taking over for Jerome Moss, knows that despite the struggles his team has had on the court this season, a win over Fredonia would be a great boost to the confidence of his players.

“I think for the struggles we’ve had this season, to upset a team like Fredonia, would be great for the kids,” O’Brien said. “Especially for the young kids and for our seniors. To win their last Dunkirk-Fredonia game would be nice for them.”

And after the Marauders’ stunning 66-63 upset of Silver Creek on Wednesday, a win over the Hillbillies might not be that hard to imagine.

“I think obviously we have to respond better and quicker to Fredonia’s up-tempo defense,” O’Brien said. “And take care of the ball. At least limit the unforced errors and careless mistakes with the basketball. And boxing out. We have to limit their opportunities, because they’re a talented team. They hustle, so I think we just want to play that tempo with them. I don’t think they’ll take us lightly. They’re obviously going to want to come in and make sure we don’t even get a hint of a win.”

Like O’Brien, Lauer knows what it’s going to take for his team to get one step closer to clinching the CCAA West I title.

“Our defense certainly has come along,” Lauer said. “At the beginning of the year, we were giving up about 65 points a game when we played them, and now we’ve lowered it down to about 50 points a game. So our defense has certainly stepped up and some other key guys coming off the bench have stepped up for us, that weren’t really playing that well at the beginning of the year for us.”

The makeup of the teams couldn’t be more different as Fredonia is led by seniors Dylan Meyer, Nick Johnston and Cody Cunningham, with help from junior Cam Voss and sophomore Pat Moore.

“I think it will be great for them,” Lauer said of his seniors having the chance to get one last win over Dunkirk. “I think they recognize that this is their last time to play Dunkirk and it’s another big win we need to get to try and get that No. 1 seed in the playoffs.”

Dunkirk, on the other hand, has had to rely on senior shooting guard Michael Bess, forward Esmond Colvin and a host of younger players to get by, as sophomores Isiah Thomas and jayvee callup Chad Butts will be key components in tonight’s contest.

“(Esmond) Colvin has done the dirty work for us and has gotten a lot of rebounds” O’Brien said. “I think Isiah Thomas has had a couple of big games. He’s a little more comfortable. And Michael is Michael. If he’s on, he creates a conundrum for the other team.

“I pulled Chad Butts and Roobie Rivera up from jayvees,” O’Brien continued. “Chad has worked his way into the starting lineup and Roobie has been a good sub.”

The night will also include a tribute to former Dunkirk player Robert Nalepa, who will have his No. 4 jersey retired immediately following the jayvee game.

“He’s been integrally involved this year and the timing couldn’t be better,” O’Brien said. “Most people know Robert, but people don’t know that basketball was his third sport.”

Nalepa graduated in 2009 and finished his career as the all-time leading scorer for the boys’ program with 1,039 points. It was fitting then, that he was on the bench Wednesday night when Michael Bess, who wears No. 4, hit the game-winning 3-pointer as time expired against Silver Creek. It was the last shot to be taken in by a Marauder basketball player wearing No. 4.

“He’s more than deserving,” O’Brien added of Nalepa. “And it’s been wonderful to have him involved in the program.”

The game will be televised on Access Channel 5 in Fredonia and Channel 12 in Dunkirk.

Air time begins at 7:30. Ed Eaker will call the action and be joined by Bill Schrader.