BY BRANDON SCHLAGER
Niagara Gazette — Seven area seniors will play in the final girls basketball game of their high school careers today.
The Cheektowaga Lions Club hosts its 15th annual Senior High School Ladies Basketball Classic tonight at Cheektowaga High School, which will feature the top female talent from schools across Western New York.
Niagara-Wheatfield’s Melissa Smith and Rachel Pawlak, Niagara Falls’ Maria Faso, Wilson’s Jamie Curry, Grand Island’s Cassie Oursler, Starpoint’s Erika Longwell and Lockport's Alexis Cheatham were among the 40 players selected by area coaches to play in the two-game event.
They'll be joined by a trio of Cardinal O'Hara standouts — Leah McDonell, Kayla Brown and Sara Dipasquale — and Tonawanda's Joanna McCarthy.
The players were distributed across four teams. Faso, Cheatham and Brown of the Justinettes will play against the Lioness and McDonell, Smith, Curry, Oursler and Longwell in the early game at 6:30 p.m. while Pawlak and the Knights will take on Dipasquale and McCarthy of the Lions at 8:30 p.m.
The all-star games serve as the final opportunity for the seniors to play side by side against the same friends and rivals they’ve competed with over the past four years.
Brian Baker, coach of the Wilson girls hoops team that fell just short of its first Class B title this season, enters his fourth year coaching in the event.
“Being so busy during the season you really don’t get the chance to get out there to see some of these kids play,” Baker said. “You read about how great they are all season and now you get to see it for yourself. … This one brings the best of the best together to play on one floor.”
Baker said it will be a little bittersweet this time around watching players like Curry play in her final game. It’s the first time he’ll watch his star guard from a different sideline as Baker coaches the Knights in the late game.
“Seeing her play one last time will be a little emotional,” Baker said of Curry, who will play at Division III Fredonia next season. “It's always good seeing the players, talking, mingling, joking around and having a good time.
“It’s a fun event, but these girls are still highly competitive. There's still plenty of trash talk."
While the girls prepare for their games in Cheektowaga, another group of senior all-stars will represent the Niagara Frontier League boys in the 16th annual Paul R. Missana Memorial Silver Hoops Classic at Buffalo’s Grabiarz School.
This year’s NFL team features a pair of players from Niagara Falls — Jermaine Crumpton and J.J. Wilkins — along with Quinton Campbell and Shay Cuadra of Kenmore West, Jack Mulcahy of Niagara-Wheatfield, Ian Gilhousen of North Tonawanda, Pat Schroeder of Kenmore East and Lewiston-Porter’s Nick Mansour and MarcAnthony Paonessa.
Ryan Mountain of North Tonawanda gets the nod as coach for the second straight year. The NFL will square off against the all-stars from the ECIC at 2 p.m.
“It’s a great day for the seniors,” Niagara-Wheatfield coach Erik O’Bryan said. “It’s exactly what an all star game is meant to be — a good time for everyone.”Follow contributing reporter Brandon Schlager on Twitter @B_Schlag