Hillbillies open with 60-56 win over East Aurora

OBSERVER Photo by Braden Carmen Fredonia Hillbillies forward Jay Hawk (32) posts up in the paint as East Aurora’s Cade Wittenrich (0) defends during a non-league boys basketball game at SUNY Fredonia on Saturday. Hawk led the Hillbillies with 19 points and 14 rebounds in the 60-56 Fredonia victory.

FREDONIA — The first quarter of the season for the Fredonia Hillbillies could not have started much better, as Fredonia scored its first basket just five seconds into the game and led 16-3 after one period of play.

Then in the fourth quarter, the game got very close, with the East Aurora Blue Devils holding possession of the ball with under a minute left to play on two separate occasions with a chance to tie the game.

But still, Fredonia never panicked and eventually came away with a 60-56 non-league victory over East Aurora in the final game of the CCAA-ECIC Challenge on Saturday at Dods Hall of the State University of New York at Fredonia.

“We began with the end in mind. We have aspirations of going far this year, and it starts with winning our first game,” said Fredonia senior Jay Hawk. “Everyone on the team did a great job staying focused.”

Fredonia (1-0) came into the season with the goal of being more balanced offensively than in previous years. To emphasize that point, Hillbillies head coach Nick Bertrando brought his leading returning scorer, Ethan Fry, off the bench in Saturday’s contest. The decision certainly didn’t seem to bother Fredonia, or Fry either, as Fry came in and immediately drilled a 3-pointer to extend the Fredonia lead to 7-1 shortly before the halfway point of the first quarter.

OBSERVER Photo by Braden Carmen Fredonia’s Keegan Whitfield (3) drives to the basket as East Aurora’s Cade Wittenrich (0) defends during Saturday’s game at SUNY Fredonia.

“With Ethan being a phenomenal competitor, the fact that he was able to come off the bench and he didn’t take offense to that by any means … that says a lot about him and his character,” said Bertrando.

Jay Hawk carried the Fredonia offense in the opening period with 11 of the 16 points for the Hillbillies. “We kept moving the ball around. It was more just my teammates getting me in position to score,” Hawk said.

In the second quarter, Fry took his turn in control of the offense with all 12 of Fredonia’s points in the frame. Fredonia led East Aurora 28-17 at the break.

In the third quarter, the Hillbillies had a balanced scoring effort to increase the lead to 45-32 with a quarter left to play. Mike Hahn hit a pair of 3-pointers in the first 70 seconds of the period, then Davion White scored the next four Fredonia points before Hawk and Fry combined for the final seven Fredonia points of the frame.

But as soon as the fourth quarter began, East Aurora (0-1) came out like an entirely different team and fought back into the contest. Over the first 1:40 of the fourth quarter, the Blue Devils went on a 10-1 run to cut Fredonia’s lead down to just four points, 46-42. Over the next six minutes, East Aurora played Fredonia evenly.

The Blue Devils sent the Hillbillies to the free-throw line four times in the final minute. After East Aurora cut the Fredonia lead to just a pair, Sal Tabone hit two free-throws to put Fredonia back up by four. Then, after East Aurora hit a pair of free-throws of its own, Keegan Whitfield split a pair of free-throws to put Fredonia ahead by three points, 59-56, with 31.5 seconds to play.

East Aurora had not one, but two chances to tie the game with a 3-pointer within the final 30 seconds after a pair of missed free-throws by Tabone, but the Hillbillies held the Blue Devils scoreless in the final 30 seconds of action. Hahn hit the back end of a pair of free-throws in the final seconds to solidify the victory.

Hawk finished with a team-high 19 points and 14 rebounds for the Hillbillies in the season-opener. Hawk averaged 4.0 points per game last season, but is expected to play a much larger role offensively as a senior this season.

“I’ve been confident the whole time. Last year, my role was to do the dirty work. If I’ve got to score more this year, that is what it is. If I do the dirty work again and I score zero points but we win, I don’t care. I just want to win the game,” Hawk said.

“What you saw from Jay Hawk today, we’ve seen from Jay Hawk all along,” said Bertrando. “Jay is a phenomenal individual, regardless of basketball ability. He is a kid that every coach would love to have on the team just because he brings it every day. … When you’ve got a kid like that, good things happen.”

Fry contributed 17 points and seven rebounds in the Fredonia victory. Hahn added 10 points and five rebounds, while White has six points and Tabone had six assists.

Zach Bell led the Blue Devils with 21 points on the night, including 17 points in the second half. Matt Horning had 10 points and Hunter Gould had nine points, all on 3-pointers.

Fredonia travels to take on Buffalo Arts Academy on Wednesday, while East Aurora plays Sweet Home on Tuesday.

“This was fun. What more could you ask for in a season opener,” Bertrando said after the win.


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