Two seasons ago, Tonawanda had a breakthrough season in ECIC IV and won its first league title in 56 years. Last season, the Warriors were league champs again, but they had to share the honor with Cleveland Hill, who earned a piece of the ECIC IV pie. But when it comes to championships, no one wants to share. One way to guarantee an outright title is to win all your games. That's what the Eagles had done entering last night's game at Lackawanna. Winning in Lackawanna, the team that has dominated ECIC IV for years, wouldn't be easy, but it would sure be rewarding.
Cleveland Hill finished strong in the fourth quarter and earned a season sweep over its chief competition in ECIC IV, defeating the Steelers, 74-68. With the win, the Eagles stayed unbeaten in league play and with two wins in their next three against Tonawanda, Holland, and JFK, they will own their first outright ECIC IV crown since 1989.
A tight contest early on shifted the way of the Steelers midway through the opening quarter. With the Eagles leading 12-10, Lackawanna finished the quarter on a 13-2 run, led by sophomore Damone Sylvers. During a 90 second span, Sylvers dropped a 3-pointer to spark the Steelers' run, and then slithered through the defense on his way to circus-shot layups three different times. Lackawanna had a 23-14 lead after the first quarter.
Lackawanna still owned a nine-point lead in the final minute of the half, before the Eagles scored the four points before intermission. Richard Sotero sank a pair from the line to pull the Eagles within five at the half, 35-30. Sotero was excellent for Cleveland Hill in the first half, scoring 14 of his team's 30 points to help them keep pace with the aggressive Steelers.
The action quickly heated back up in the third quarter when Jordan Parker opened it with a 3-pointer and followed it up with another bucket to tie the game at 35-35. Over the next three minutes of game play, the teams literally traded baskets. After a basket from the Eagles' Andrej Krajewski put them up 45-43, Lackawanna responded with 3-pointers from Cam Smith and Sylvers to take a four-point lead, the largest margin since the half began. Not to be outdone, Cleveland Hill got a pair of buckets from Rayshawn Smalls and another from Parker over the final two minutes of the third quarter and held a 51-49 advantage heading into the final stanza.
An exciting stretch in the last quarter began when Smith connected from downtown to put Lackawanna in front, 54-53. The Eagles came back with a score from Jermaine Hairston, before Smith bombed another from long range, increasing the Steelers' advantage to 57-55 with 6:11 remaining. Just seconds later, Jared Watkins hit a '3' for the Eagles, who then got a steal and basket from Sotero to go up 60-57. Then following a defensive stop, Aaron Phillips dropped one in from behind the arc, capping an 8-0 run that occurred in just 45 seconds. When the smoke cleared, 16 combined points had been scored in a minute and a half, including four combined 3-pointers. More importantly for Cleveland Hill, in a game that saw 18 lead changes and seven ties, they were on top, 63-57, and would not relinquish its lead the rest of the way.
Parker led five Eagles that finished in double figure scoring with 18 points. Sotero scored 16 points, Hairston netted 14 points, and Watkins and Phillips each added 10 points.
Sylvers scored a game-high 20 points fro Lackawanna in the loss. Shaquille Brooks finished with 15 points, while Smith scored 14 points, including four 3-pointers.