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Nick Whitfield’s 26 points lead Fredonia past Dunkirk, 61-37

Hillbillies take Round 1

Fredonia’s Nick Whitfield (22) looks to pass during Friday’s CCAA Division 1 West boys basketball game against Dunkirk, at Fredonia High School. Whitfield took over the game for the Hillbillies, scoring a team-high 26 points in Fredonia’s 61-37 victory over the visiting Marauders. OBSERVER Photo by Ron Szot.

FREDONIA — Big players usually make their name for coming up big on the grandest of stages. For a Fredonia athlete, no regular season game can provide a bigger stage than a Dunkirk-Fredonia game. Friday night, deadlocked at 26-26 early in the second half, Fredonia’s Nick Whitfield had his rivalry moment. Whitfield scored 11 straight points in the third quarter, including a pair of thunderous dunks to excite the crowd, to carry Fredonia past Dunkirk for a 61-37 victory in Friday’s CCAA Division 1 West boys basketball game at Fredonia High School.

“It’s always a big rivalry game. Dunkirk is always going to come out with their best game, wanting to beat us at home,” said Whitfield. “I just wanted to win. Why would I want us to lose to Dunkirk at home? That would be the worst feeling.”

The first quarter appeared to be the beginning of another Fredonia (8-3, 2-1) rivalry blowout, as Dunkirk (4-7, 1-2) did not make a shot from the field until two minutes remained in the period.

“Our boys played really hard. The reason we were down 12-1, we had some great looks, they just didn’t fall,” said Dunkirk coach Luke Gullo. “Our shots are going to fall eventually.”

After one quarter, the Hillbillies led 12-3, as Whitfield and Kaleb Rybij combined for all 12 Fredonia points.

Fredonia’s Kaleb Rybij (2) goes to put up a layup defended by Dunkirk’s A’Marion Tell (33) during Friday’s rivalry game between Fredonia and Dunkirk at Fredonia High School. OBSERVER Photo by Ron Szot.

“Early on, we were getting after it,” said Fredonia coach Nick Bertrando. “We always like to start on the defensive end, and that was definitely the case early on.”

The first half of the second quarter was rather even, but six straight points from Dunkirk’s Earl Stewart put the Marauders within striking distance. The Hillbillies only led by five points at the half, 22-17.

“In the middle of the second quarter, we got inconsistent again,” said Bertrando. “That’s the one thing that’s plagued us, the inconsistency on the offensive end. … Dunkirk made it a game after that. … They put us in a pickle and we had to fight ourselves out of it.”

Early in the third quarter, Stewart had six straight points again to tie the score at 23-23. Each side traded 3-pointers after that to lock the score at 26-26, which showed the improvement of the young Marauders. A tied score in the second half was far from the last result between the two rivals, as Fredonia posted 100 on Dunkirk in the last matchup.

“Our kids have certainly improved,” said Gullo. “… They’re good, and we can be that good too. That’s what we showed everyone tonight. I’m proud of our kids. The way they are fighting back and improving and growing, I could not be more proud.”

From then, however, Whitfield took over. Patrick Reading and Rybij each scored to put Fredonia ahead by a couple of possessions, but Whitfield scored the next 11 points. His second and third field goals of his run were both rim-rattling dunks with 3:30, then 2:30 remaining on the clock in the third period. Whitfield then hit a layup and the capped his run with an and-one layup to put Fredonia up 41-26.

“That was a huge lift for us, right at the time that we needed it,” said Bertrando of Whitfield’s dunks. “That kind of jump-started the offense.”

“We had a breakdown defensively with how we were guarding him. … We need to have different kids figure out how to guard a kid like Nick (Whitfield),” said Gullo.

Each team traded buckets at the end of the period to leave the score at 43-28 after three quarters. Fredonia led by double digits the rest of the way, and extended the lead to 20 points with two minutes remaining in the game. The 61-37 final was the largest discrepancy in the game.

“Fredonia is a well-run machine. Our boys played our best basketball for two and a half quarters, but then the experience of Fredonia just got to us,” said Gullo. “Hopefully, this experience prepares us for playoffs and the rest of the league. We were in this game.”

Whitfield’s 26 points led all scorers on Friday, while Rybij added 17 points, which was second among all scorers. Tyler Putney led Fredonia with seven rebounds along with seven points, while Alec Schrader had five rebounds and five steals.

“The credit really goes to all these guys and the work they put in,” said Bertrando. “… The Dunkirk-Fredonia game, everyone tries to downplay it, but at the end of the day, there’s a lot of pride that goes into it. … I’m proud of my guys with how they represented themselves, their community and their school.”

Stewart led Dunkirk with 14 points, while Peter Paredes had eight points.

“We can always bounce back. Teams are going to make runs on us, but we always come back,” said Whitfield. “Moving forward, this makes us hungry. We want to win the league.”

Fredonia travels to Chautauqua Lake on Tuesday, then hosts Southwestern on Friday, both in league play. Dunkirk plays Olean on Tuesday in Dunkirk, then travels to Allegany-Limestone on Friday.

Twitter: @bradencarmen

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