By BRANDON SCHLAGER
Niagara Gazette — SANBORN — Anyone who’s watched Niagara-Wheatfield girls basketball this season knows of the dynamic offensive connection between senior guards Rachel Pawlak and Melissa Smith.
North Tonawanda learned Thursday night the duo plays just as well on defense, and there couldn’t be better news for a Falcons team looking to make a run in this year’s Section VI tournament.
Allyson Czaja did her part, too, putting together a double-double, and Pawlak topped all scorers with 16 points as the sixth-seeded Falcons rebounded their way to a 46-27 win over the 11th-seeded Lady Jacks in a Class AA pre-quarterfinal matchup at Niagara-Wheatfield High School.
Czaja led N-W with 15 boards to go with 10 points and Kirsten Klettke chipped in another 10 rebounds and eight points.
“We probably rebounded better than we have all year,” Falcons coach Diane Fegatelli said. “And it’s a great time of year to start rebounding.”
Although Smith, who averaged nearly 18 points per game this season, fell short of her typical offensive output with six points, her 10 assists and four steals had an equal impact.
Smith connected with Pawlak on key passes in transition early in the game as the pair helped Wheatfield start off on a 13-4 run, setting the tone for the game. Pawlak’s 13 first-half points equalled the total output of the entire North Tonawanda squad as the Falcons held a 25-13 advantage at the half.
“I don’t think they (Pawlak and Smith) get enough credit for their defense,” Fegatelli said. “Their defense is outstanding each and every night. Most people don’t typically realize that.”
Sophomore Megan Weaver scored 12 points to lead North Tonawanda.
With the win, Niagara-Wheatfield advances to play No. 3 Lancaster on Tuesday. After losing to Jamestown in the quarterfinals each of the past three seasons, the Falcons will welcome the refreshing change of pace.
“Lancaster’s a tough game for us, but we’re looking forward to it,” Fegatelli said. “It’s nice to get into the second round and play a team like Lancaster. I think, playing in the NFL, that we’re used to playing tough teams. Even when an NFL team has a down year they’re still tough, so today was a great experience for us.”Follow contributor Brandon Schlager on Twitter @ B_Schlag.