By MIKE MEILER
Niagara Gazette — On paper, Friday night's matchup of the Niagara-Wheatfield and Niagara Falls girls basketball looked like a game between very similar teams, both boasting a dynamic duo at guard as well as a few talented forwards with good size.
The experience of N-W's senior guards Rachel Pawlak and Melissa Smith won in the end, though, as the Falcons held on to earn a 58-50 home win over the Wolverines in Niagara Frontier League play.
Pawlak scored 21 points and Smith added 13 as the seniors outdueled Niagara Falls' younger duo, junior Victoria Pryor (12 points) and sophomore Toni Polk (13).
"Melissa Smith and Rachel Pawlak are really special players," N-W coach Diane Fegatilli said. "They steadied us tonight; when Niagara Falls came back, they made some key plays and shots that helped us pull through.
"They're not only great basketball players, they're tremendous leaders, and it showed tonight."
The Falcons (2-1 NFL) jumped out to an early 5-0 lead after back-to-back steals by Pawlak led to a Smith layup and her own three-point play. The team would never trail from there, opening up an eight-point lead after one and extending it to nine by halftime.
A 15-11 third quarter pushed the N-W lead into double digits, but the Wolverines would come back, using a 13-2 run midway through the fourth quarter to cut the lead to three. Pryor fouled out with 1:39 remaining, and N-W's Melissa Elnicki scored four points in the final minute to help seal the win.
"Everyone stepped up tonight," Fegatilli said. "There was not one person who played tonight who didn't do the little things to help us win. I know it sounds cliche, but it was a total team effort."
Sophomore center Allyson Czaja caused havoc in the lane all night for the Falcons, using her 6-foot-1 frame to provide a big target for Smith and Pawlak en route to scoring eight points.
Sophomore Bianca Brown hit two 3-pointers and finished with 10 points for the Wolverines. She and Ijon'Ana Laster, last year's NF junior varsity standout, hit multiple outside shots that helped beat the N-W 2-3 zone during the Niagara Falls comeback. Laster finished with eight points.Follow high school sports reporter Mike Meiler on Twitter @mikemeiler for updates on your local teams.