For nearly a year, the Charter School of Applied Technology boys basketball team had to live with the disappointment it felt walking out of the Depew High School gym following a season-ending playoff loss. The Eagles returned on Wednesday and got things right.
No. 9 seed CSAT made the big plays down the stretch and posted a 42-38 win over the eighth-seeded Wildcats in a Class B1 Section VI pre-quarterfinal game.
“That loss last year left a bitter taste in our mouths,” CSAT junior standout Daughlyon Willoughby said. “We didn’t want to lose this year. We came back stronger and we were able to win this game. I’m just glad we all came together to mesh as one down the stretch.”
The Eagles (11-9) will face top-seeded Lackawanna at 7 p.m. Friday with a chance to advance to Buffalo State College and the semifinals. Lackawanna enters the game with a 16-4 record but CSAT has proven it can compete with top-tier competition, most notably with an eye-opening win over defending Class AA sectional champion North Tonawanda on Feb. 12 and a 20-point win at Lewiston-Porter early in the year.
But the undefeated ECIC IV champion Steelers have only lost to larger schools and Monsignor Martin Athletic Association Park so the Eagles will have their hands full too.
“That’s going to be a challenge, 100 percent,” CSAT coach Camilo Hoyos said. “Lackawanna is a 1-seed for a reason, you don’t win that many league games if you’re not a great team. You can’t take them lightly, that’s for sure. This is great right now, but tomorrow we’re back to practice. But we’ve had some huge wins this season.”
Count Wednesday’s among them, especially since the Wildcats took Lackawanna to the wire in both league meetings.
CSAT held Depew off the scoreboard for the game’s first 4 1/2 minutes and took a quick 11-3 lead. But the Wildcats and superstar Chad Biersbach battled back and seemed to have control of the game after Patrick Burns hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to end the third quarter.
But the Eagles took full grip of the game midway through the fourth, coming with the big shots and big rebounds. After Depew took a one-point lead with four minutes to play, CSAT responded with seven straight points, culminated by a 3-point bucket by Jayden Gulledge, the senior’s only bucket of the game.
“That’s something we’ve been preaching all season long is composure, composure, composure,” CSAT coach Camilo Hoyos said. “We knew we’re going to be on the road, great players are going make great shots like Chad did. But we had that mental toughness down the stretch.”
Biersbach led all scorers with 16 points for the Wildcats (13-8) and ended his career as the third-leading scorer in Depew boys basketball history. He scored 14 in the second quarter alone and almost single-handedly turned the tide of the game around.
“He struggled the first quarter but after that, I thought he was the best player on the court,” Depew coach Larry Jones said. “He made some tremendous plays offensively as well as defensively. Needless to say, when the No. 3 scorer in the history of the school is leaving, that leaves a void to the program that will not be easy to fill.”
Willoughby hit two big buckets in the game-clinching run for the Eagles and tied point guard James Tyes for the team-high with 10 points. But Willoughby said Tyes was the leading factor in the decisive run.
“I was so happy that my man James was there for us,” Willoughby said. “He controlled the team and held us together down the stretch and then we all came together and hit big shots.”
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