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Dunkirk knocks off Cleveland Hill in 1973 Class A championship

Remember When?

Above is the 1972-73 Dunkirk High School basketball team. In the first row, from the left, are Dave Szwejbka, Jack VandeVelde, Jesse Thomas, Lewis Mack, Don Reilly and head coach Mike Tramuta. In the second row are high school principal Joseph Parlato, Mike Tuczynski, Dan Tramuta, Felix Rosario and athletic director Al Stuhlmiller. In the back row are manager Tom Pencek, George Corsoro, Jerry Moreland, Mike Dimmer and Kurt Wolnik. OBSERVER File Photo

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article appeared in the EVENING OBSERVER on March 17,1973, the day after Dunkirk High School knocked off Cleveland Hill 90-62 to claim the Section VI Class A championship. With Lewis Mack, one of the stars of that team being inducted into the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame next month, it was deemed appropriate to recognize the accomplishments of that team, which was coached by Mike Tramuta, another CSHOF inductee (Class of 2020).

BUFFALO — For 12 unlucky years, the Dunkirk High basketball team came up empty-handed. Number 13 turned out to be a charm Friday night in Buffalo’s Memorial Auditorium, as the Maroon Marauders captured the big one, the Section VI Class A title, throttling stubborn Cleveland Hill 90-62.

The usually quick-starting Marauders were in a battle for three quarters of the contest, before blowing the Eagles (16-5) into oblivion with a devastating 28-7 final quarter. The victory was the 20th of the season for second-year head coach Mike Tramuta’s team, a new school record.

The win mark was not the only one to fall in the Aud, as Jesse “Jet” Thomas eased ahead of Steve Borowski in the all-time scoring parade with a 15-point effort. “The Jet” finished his varsity career with 744 points, 10 more than the St. Lawrence star racked up in his career, that culminated with his selection to the All-Western New York team in 1969-70.

Playmaker Don Reilly broke the third school standard of the night, firing 13 scoring passes to eclipse his own assist mark of 12 set earlier in the season against Olean.

All five Dunkirk starters reached the twin-figure plateau, with forward Lewis Mack taking game honors with 23. Mack did it all for the Marauders, picking off 20 rebounds, handing out six assists, bringing the ball up court in the second half while Thomas cooled his cramped legs, and playing his usual brand of larcenous defense.

Team captain Dave Szwejbka closed with a furious rush and finished with 20 points. Center Jack VandeVelde popped home jumper after jumper from well outside to end up with 18, while Thomas’ 15 and Reilly’s 10 completed the quintet.

The Eagles came to play, there was no denying that. They took the game to the Marauders from the opening tap, pressing full court, fast-breaking as often as possible, and crashing the boards like madmen. Their strategy worked, as they grabbed a slim 19-17 lead after the first quarter.

Senior guard Glen Whelan and rough 6-foot-5 center Joe Yaris were the top boys for Eagle coach Jim Roward. Whelan rifled precision passes with unerring accuracy to this hot-shooting teammates, while Yaris quickly established himself under the backboards, elbows first.

The CCIAC champs opened the second quarter with a rush, scoring the first seven points to take a 24-19 lead. Thomas had five of the seven, with Reilly adding the other two. Both teams began to fast break with length-of-the-court passes, and the play grew ragged, especially for the Marauders. With 2:41 left in the half, and Dunkirk ahead 38-30, Yaris began a one-man rally, scoring seven of his team’s next nine points, pulling the Eagles within a point, 40-39, with 45 seconds to play. Mack swished a pair of charity tosses with two seconds showing on the overhead clock, and the Marauders led uncomfortably at the half , 42-39.

A loose Dunkirk team took the court for the second half tap, and midway through the period things began to go right for a change. VandeVelde freed himself for a fastbreak layup, and Mack stole the inbounds pass for a quick two. Reilly followed with a soft baseline one-hander, and then Szwejbka zipped in for a 54-45 Dunkirk lead on a feed from Reilly. The Marauders held the advantage until the end of the quarter, taking a 62-55 score with them into the final eight minutes.

After Yaris canned a pair from the line, his lone two points of the second half, Mack spun for an eight-foot banker off the glass. Ron Fritsch hit from the corner, Dunkirk’s pivotman slipped in a left-handed tap. A Szwejbka drive and a Thomas fastbreak layup pushed the score to 72-59, and the end was in sight.

A jumper by Don Zucarelli interrupted the string, but the Marauders came back with a vengeance, scoring 15 successive points between 3:25 and 1:15. VandeVelde scored on a pretty pass from Mack, and then Szwejbka took over. His quick hands turned a pair of lobbed passes in four quick points. Mack followed with a pair of baskets himself, and then the Marauder captain countered with a three-point play.

Dunkirk’s subs then found out what it was like to play in the Aud. They entered in shifts and the jayvees found the court to their liking. Both Frank Bartela and Mike Balzer made the lone shot each fired, with Balzer’s basket just beating the final buzzer.

NOTES: For the game, Dunkirk shot an even 50%, 41 of 82. Individually, Mack was 9 of 17, Thomas 7 of 13, Reilly 5 of 10, VandeVelde 9 of 16 and Szwejbka 9 of 24. Dunkirk was 8 of 12 from the foul line, while the Eagles were 10 of 17. … Other than Mack’s 20 rebounds, VandeVelde gathered in 12. … Thomas’ leg cramps began two minutes into the game. “They usually don’t come until near the end of the game,” said the Jet. “It must have been the big court.” … Yaris was the top point getter for the Eagles, finishing with 18. He was followed by Whelan with 17, and Zucarelli and Jerry Friscario with 10 apiece. … The win was Dunkirk’s 17th straight.

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