Niagara Gazette — KENMORE — All season, Niagara Falls had been able to overcome its lack of size with a blend of quickness, athleticism and depth.
The plucky Wolverines finally met their match Friday night in 6-foot Williamsville North center Ericka Taplin, who scored a game-high 24 points and notched a huge block late in the fourth quarter as the Spartans beat Niagara Falls 51-49 in a Section VI Class AA semifinal at Kenmore West.
Taplin scored 10 of her points in a second quarter during which the Spartans outscored NF 14-9 and opened up an eight-point lead. Will. North (12-8) led 31-23 and by as much as 12 early in the third quarter.
That’s when the Wolverines’ (17-3) speed started to become a factor. Niagara Falls pushed the pace, opened up the game and rallied back, eventually taking a late lead before falling.
“All year we’ve planned on wearing teams out,” said NF coach Mike Esposito. “I thought we did that, they just had a little more gas than I thought.”
Niagara Falls cut the lead to 43-35 heading into the fourth quarter, which they opened with a 9-3 run. Senior Victoria “Shmoo” Pryor hit a driving layup then forced a turnover by hustling to bank a tipped pass off a Will. North player before the ball went out of bounds.
Pryor then swung a pass to junior sharpshooter Bianca Brown, who drained a 3-pointer from the left elbow. Will. North ace shooter Anne Principe, who Esposito said was a defensive focal point heading into the game, banked home an open trey to answer.
Five-foot-7 junior Ijon’Ana Laster, who battled down low with Taplin for the first half of the game, grabbled her own blocked attempt for a layup. Taplin missed inside and Pryor pushed up court, jumping into a defender on the fast break to draw a foul. She knocked down both free throws to cut the WN lead to 46-44 with 3:19 left.