Niagara Gazette

February 28, 2014

NF girls set for semis

By Mike Meiler
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Another year, another basketball team from Niagara Falls High School on a deep run into the Section VI playoffs.

With the perennially-contending boys having bowed out early following a season of struggles, the NFHS girls have picked up the slack. The Wolverines won the Niagara Frontier League, finishing unblemished in league play, eked out a hard-fought win in the Class AA quarterfinals and now look to do something else this year’s boys couldn’t: win a playoff game over Williamsville North.

The second-seeded Wolverines (17-2) and the third-seeded Spartans (10-8) tip off at 7:30 p.m. in a Class AA semifinal at Kenmore West. The Will. North boys beat Niagara Falls in the Class AA quarterfinals just one week ago.

The game is also a rematch from last season’s playoffs, when the Will. North girls beat NF by 1 in the quarterfinals.

To get a better outcome this season, the Wolverines will have to focus on stopping Spartan sharpshooter Anne Principe, according to coach Mike Esposito. The junior guard drained nine 3-pointers in a Feb. 12 ECIC I win over Orchard Park and five Tuesday in a quarterfinal win over Kenmore West.

“She might be the best pure shooter we’ve face in four or five years,” Esposito said. “I think she hit four or five (3-pointers) against us last year.

“We’re really going to have to communicate. They run her off a lot of screens. We have to limit her touches.”

Even if the Wolverines find a way to slow Principe, they’ll still have to deal with 6-foot sophomore center Ericka Taplin, sister of star Will. North boys guard Sterling Taplin.

Ericka Taplin led the Spartans in points (13.6) and rebounds (10.0) per game this season and stands 4 inches taller than anyone in Niagara Falls’ main rotation.

“We have to be physical with her,” Esposito said. “We can’t let the ball get inside; when she gets it inside, she scores.”

Where the Wolverines will have an advantage is in the open court. Most teams in Western New York would struggle to guard Niagara Falls’ plethora of athletic guards and the Spartans should be no different.

That athleticism could be key to stopping Taplin as well. The Wolverines shot 36 free throws against Lancaster, and a couple of quick fouls on the Will. North center could put Niagara Falls at a big advantage.

“If she’s in foul trouble, they’ve got problems,” Esposito said. “They don’t have a deep bench.”

Depth isn’t an issue for the Wolverines. Esposito uses eight players regularly, all with the ability to get up the court.

“We definitely have a speed advantage,” he said. “We have to make it a 94-foot game, get in the passing lanes and pressure the heck out of them.”

The winner of tonight’s game will play in the Class AA final at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Buffalo State against the winner of No. 1 Lockport and No. 4 Lockport. The Red Raiders and Lions face off at 6 p.m. tonight at Ken West.

Follow Niagara Gazette sports reporter Mike Meiler on Twitter @mikemeiler for updates on your local teams.