Dunkirk grounds T’birds

Pope’s 37 points not enough as Marauders win league opener

OBSERVER Photo by Ron Szot Chautauqua Lake’s Nate Adams (21) hacks Dunkirk’s Tyrese Kristian-Johnson (12) during the CCAA Division 1 West opener for both teams.

Dunkirk High School’s gym was rocking from the opening tip. The JV boys took care of business, punctuated by a dunk at the buzzer. The parking lot outside of the gym was so over-crowded that fans had to park on the opposite end of the school. The leading scorer in all of Western New York was in Dunkirk. The stage was set — and Dunkirk could not have been any more ready for the task.

Despite Devin Pope’s 37 points for Chautauqua Lake, the Marauders defeated the visiting Thunderbirds, 82-66, in the boys basketball season opening CCAA Division 1 West league game for each team.

Dunkirk (3-2, 1-0) jumped out to a 12-2 lead right out of the gates. The all-senior starting lineup of Dunkirk could not have looked much better early on, as six seniors scored from the field in the first quarter. When the dust finally settled, Dunkirk led 26-11 after the first quarter.

The second quarter was a much more evenly-matched period, as Chautauqua Lake finally got going offensively. The Thunderbirds more than doubled their first quarter scoring total, yet they could not catch up to Dunkirk.

The athletic Marauders scored 21 points in the second quarter, keeping the lead at double-digits at the half.

OBSERVER Photo by Ron Szot Chautauqua Lake’s Devin Pope (14) handles the ball as Dunkirk’s Felix Garcia defends.

Chautauqua Lake’s leading scorer, Pope, was pressured early and often by the Dunkirk defense, forcing the superstar guard out of his comfort zone.

“They were playing me so tight up top, and they were doubling every time I was trying to get off a ball screen,” said Pope. “I had to drop down to the post, and that’s not normally my game.”

At times, Pope drew the attention of the entire floor. On one play in particular, Chautauqua Lake rebounded the ball and had four players all crowded around each other, while all five Dunkirk players were closer to Pope than the ball.

“To have five guys around you at once, that’s pretty awesome,” said Chautauqua Lake coach Mike Putney.

Despite the heavy pressure and the style change on the fly, Pope still led Chautauqua Lake (3-2, 0-1) with 20 points at halftime.

Dunkirk was led in the first half by Tyrese Kristian-Johnson for the second straight game. The senior big man had 16 points in the first half for Dunkirk.

“He’s really coming out strong,” said Dunkirk coach Andrew Krenzer.

Pope kept the scoring coming for Chautauqua Lake in the third quarter, tallying 12 points in the period. It just was not enough to make a difference on the scoreboard, as Dunkirk did not slow down either. Dunkirk guard Andre Lockett hit a three-pointer plus a foul, followed by threes from Noah Sobilo and Issiah Velez — all seniors — to finish off the third quarter. Dunkirk led 69-52.

“It seemed like we never made THAT basket,” said Putney. “You’ve got to hit those to put yourself in a game like this.”

The fourth quarter slowed down quite a bit, as each team was held below 20 points in the quarter. The most eventful moment of the fourth was a scary sight, as Pope went down with an injury. Pope was attempting a chase-down block on a Dunkirk fast-break. As Pope landed behind the basket, he landed on another player’s foot, rolling his ankle. The injury looked serious from courtside, but the senior guard was helped off the court by his coaches and eventually returned to the game.

“It’s fine, I’m good,” said Pope after the game.

Pope finished with 37 points on the night, adding nine rebounds. Pope averaged 36.8 points per game and 15 rebounds per game coming into Monday’s game.

“I don’t think there’s a way to stop Devin Pope,” said Krenzer. “Our goal was to out-score him.”

Kristian-Johnson led Dunkirk with 22 points and 20 rebounds, while Devaun Farnham-DeJesus had 15 points.

Dunkirk heads into its long-time rivalry matchup with Fredonia on Thursday with a lot of momentum, coming off back-to-back wins on its home court. Krenzer knows that matchup carries a lot of importance.

“Fredonia will bring a ton of energy,” said Krenzer. “We’ve got to match that.”

Tip-off for Thursday’s game will be at 7:30 at Fredonia High School.

Twitter: @bradencarmen