Old rivals, new stakes

Dunkirk, Fredonia meet today with Class B1 girls basketball title on the line

OBSERVER File Photos The Lady Marauders’ Kymi Nance drives against the defense of the Lady Hillbillies’ Hannah Gullo (33) during Fredonia’s 58-55 win in Dunkirk on Jan. 25.

Today is the day that Dunkirk and Fredonia fans have been dreaming about all season long. The longtime rivals meet up today at noon at Buffalo State for the Section 6 Class B1 girls basketball championship game.

Meeting for the first time in a class final, both teams have had similar seasons and similar paths to the final game of the B1 tournament. Both had identical records on the season (11-12) and both were seen as underdogs at different points in the postseason tournament. Dunkirk had to upset three teams on its way to the title game, while Fredonia had the difficult task of beating the top team in the bracket — Newfane — a team that featured the second leading scorer in all of Section 6.

Yet, one after the other, both teams got it done.

Dunkirk earned its spot in the final after a 23-0 run to start the game against Medina led the Lady Marauders to victory in their part of the semifinals.

Dunkirk’s lading scorer in the game, Kymi Nance, said the team preached “Dig deeper” throughout the tournament. The Lady Marauders sure seemed to be firing on all cylinders in the semifinal game.

Fredonia’s Katie Price puts up a shot during the Jan. 25 contest.

Fredonia also jumped out to an early lead, 9-2 in the first quarter, against the No. 1 seed Newfane in its semifinal matchup. However, the rest of the way was not easy for the Lady Billies.

Paige Emborsky, Newfane’s leading scorer, scored nine straight points to put Fredonia down by four in the third quarter. But Carol Zirkle’s resilient team did not give up. Fredonia finished the quarter with 11 straight points, capped off by a 3-pointer by senior Katie Price at the buzzer. When it was all said and done, the Lady Billies mounted an 18-0 run to regain the lead, and did not relinquish that advantage the rest of the way.

Now, the stage is set for the familiar foes to meet again, this time in the biggest matchup of them all.

The CCAA Division 1 West rivals played twice in the regular season, with Fredonia winning each game closely.

On Dec. 22 at Fredonia, the Lady Hillbillies took a 58-47 decision but led by just four going into the final period. The game was Fredonia’s first win of the season after starting the 2017-18 campaign with four losses.

Dunkirk’s Nadara Odell (5) shoots while defended by Fredonia’s Gracie Morrison in the Jan. 25 game.

Despite Dunkirk’s defeat, their fifth straight loss, coach Darnell Baldwin was pleased with his team’s effort. “We played our best game so far of the year and I can’t be more proud of these girls with the way they fought,” he said. “At the end of the day I know we lost, but it didn’t feel like a loss for me. I won more than a basketball game, I won these girls over (tonight) and now we are playing the right way, the way I want them to play.”

The Lady Marauders started getting results in the win column after losing in Fredonia, ripping off three straight wins. However, they then dropped three in a row ahead of the Jan. 25 rematch in Dunkirk.

In that game, the Lady Marauders were down 12 with a little over two minutes left but battled back, getting a chance to send the game into overtime with a 3-pointer. The shot rimmed out and Fredonia escaped Dunkirk with a 58-55 win. Price had a career-high 30 points for the Lady Billies in the win.

The Lady Marauders promptly bounced back from that rough loss with another three-game winning streak, including a four-point victory at traditional powerhouse Olean in their next game.

“They have improved tremendously over the season,” said Fredonia coach Zirkle.

OBSERVER File Photos The guidance of Fredonia coach Carol Zirkle and Dunkirk coach Darnell Baldwin helped their teams bounce back from subpar starts this season to make today’s Class B1 final.

Dunkirk has had an incredible turnaround from last season. The Lady Marauders only won one game last year, and now, are just one win away from being Class B1 champions.

“Unbelievable, right?” said Baldwin of making it to the championship game. Despite starting five sophomores and coming in to the tournament as the 11-seed, Dunkirk is not done yet.

“We’ve got one more to go,” said Baldwin.

What a one it will be.

Though the records are identical this year, Fredonia comes in with experience on its side. Playing in its fourth straight class final, as the reigning champions of B1 from a year ago, Fredonia is in a familiar place on a familiar stage.

Darnell Baldwin

“Playing at Buffalo State four years in a row gives us a lot of an advantage because we know the court very well,” said Price, Fredonia’s leading scorer with over 15 points per game on the year.

Though longtime rivals, Dunkirk and Fredonia were cheering for each other to get to this moment. Fredonia cheered on Dunkirk in the early moments of the Lady Marauders’ matchup against Medina, while Dunkirk did the same for Fredonia before heading home on Thursday night.

After the Dunkirk win, Baldwin admitted that he was hoping Fredonia would meet the Lady Marauders in the final.

“We’re kind of biased, we hope that it’s Fredonia so we can have the Dunkirk-Fredonia rivalry,” said Baldwin.

Baldwin admits that the previous matchups are still on his mind, but rather than dwelling on the losses from earlier on, the Lady Marauders’ coach sees today’s rematch as an opportunity to rewrite the narrative.

“They got us two games this year,” said Baldwin. “It would be so sweet to get them in the third game.”

In addition to an increase in confidence, Dunkirk stresses team chemistry of its sophomore-led Lady Marauders.

“Team chemistry is the most important thing,” said Nance. “Just sticking together and believing and not putting our heads down is the most important thing we need to do.”

Nance will need to be a key contributor for Dunkirk today if the Lady Marauders expect to win.

Another key contributor may be Olivia Smith. The sophomore sharpshooter drilled four 3-pointers on Thursday.

“I tell her she’s always open,” said Baldwin. “She can get pretty hot if she just stays focused.”

Fredonia, on the other hand, has a lot of key players to focus on, as well. After Fredonia’s upset of Newfane, Zirkle stated that “different people stepped up at different times” en route to the win.

In addition to Price’s 20 points and 10 rebounds, Kazlin Beers and Maddie Marsh — a JV call-up — neutralized Emborsky, the second leading scorer in Section VI.

“Kazlin Beers and Maddie Marsh did an incredible job on defense,” said Zirkle.

What may have been the biggest statistic of the game, however, was the game-high 19 rebounds from A’Cetta Farriat.

Farriat “did an incredible job of boxing out,” according to Zirkle. “Those rebounds stopped them from getting second chance shots,” Zirkle added.

Price will obviously be a factor for Fredonia today, but defensive contributions from Beers, Marsh, Farriat and others will go a long way in the Lady ‘Billies quest for back-to-back B1 championships.

Although wishing this matchup would materialize, Baldwin knows that defeating Fredonia is a tall task.

“Coach Zirkle is a phenomenal coach,” said Baldwin. “I know that she’s always going to have her girls prepared and ready for this moment.”

Despite recent success over Dunkirk, Zirkle is not taking anything for granted.

“Beating them twice is over. That’s in the past. It’s how we come out and perform (today),” said Zirkle.

Dunkirk’s young group, led by Nance, is ready for the chance to step into the spotlight and claim the B1 crown.

“We’ve just gotta believe,” said Nance. “A lot of people had doubted us and didn’t think we could do it, but you pull your head out of it and you can do it.”

Fredonia’s veteran squad, led by Price, is ready for yet another moment to shine.

“They want it. They want it really bad, you can tell,” said Price. “But we want it just as much.”

When it’s all said and done, one team will have bragging rights in the cross-town rivalry on a level many have never seen before.

Twitter: @bradencarmen

Follow along on Twitter for live updates during the game.