Niagara Gazette — BUFFALO — The tears flowed freely down the face of veteran Niagara-Wheatfield head coach Diane Fegatilli.
A Niagara Frontier League and Section VI second fiddle to Lockport for more than a decade and losers twice this past NFL season by a combined 49 points to the league unbeaten, the No. 6 Lady Falcons were the deserved underdogs to the No. 2 Lady Lions yet again — and things weren't expected to change for at least another long year.
But everything, including the venue, changed in Friday night's Section VI Class AA girls basketball semifinal in the neutral Kenmore West gymnasium, where the Lady Falcons out-worked Lockport for four quarters and stunned the defending sectional champions, 50-47.
“This is amazing. I can't believe we did it,” beamed Lady Falcons senior co-captain Rachel Pawlak, whose game-high 25 points, including three 3-point baskets, fueled the win. “We prepared really well. We really studied the films and we had a good game plan.”
Added senior co-captain Melissa Smith (18 points, 4 assists), “We've played together for three years, Rachel and I, and we've known each other since we were 12. I can't believe it!”
The Lady Falcons (15-6) earned a trip to Tuesday night's 8 p.m. AA final against top-seeded Jamestown (17-3) by doing exactly as Fegatilli told the Union-Sun & Journal on Thursday, “rebound and eliminate second shots.”
N-W sophomore center Allyson Czaja (5 points, 14 rebounds), junior forward Kirsten Klettke (7 rebounds) and junior forward Melissa Elnicki (2 points, 4 rebounds) combined for 25 rebounds as the Lady Falcons ruled the boards at both ends throughout and made all the clutch shots.
“We beat Lockport early in my career, but it's been a long time,” Fegatilli said, wiping away tears, getting hugs from everyone. “We had a good game plan and we stuck to it. Melissa and Rachel did everything they needed to do, scoring points, and Klettke, Czaja and Elnicki got the big rebounds. We out-rebounded them.”