By CHRIS BROOKS, photos by STEVE HARRISON
BATH — Ladies and gentlemen, the wait is over. The battle for local bragging rights across the Allegany and Steuben County areas is back on. After three long, COVID-19 plagued years, the Dan Barkley Showcase has officially made its grand return to the hardwood.
And what better way to welcome a long-awaited return, than with perhaps one of the most storied rivalries the neighboring counties share with one another: Wellsville and Hornell.
It just doesn’t get any better than that.
The spotlight was on at Haverling High for the prologue to the seventh installment of the memorial tournament: The annual Sheriff’s Classic. With each county holding three overall victories across the previous six years of action, you could consider this as the metaphorical rubber match to break the series deadlock.
Right at the midseason point, the Class B2 picture has begun to take some shape with longtime rivals sitting at the top and second spots respectively, with Hornell entering the night as winners of eight of their last nine games, while Wellsville was looking for that wave to surf down the homestretch into February with, just like last year’s improbable Sectional title run.
In a true rivalry game, something had to give way in the Sheriff’s Classic nightcap.
Basketball is a game of runs, and a game of momentum swings. Each team would have their fair share of them all across the four quarters of play. But like this kind of game between two storied rivals, it would come down to the last eight minutes of play in determining who would throw the final haymaker.
With Wellsville attempting to draw up any kind of momentum shift they could through the fourth quarter, Hornell came knocking on the door just as quick. To help them remain one step ahead, the Raiders looked to a certain sharpshooter to deliver the goods.
Enter Gennaro Picco.
The Hornell junior ate up all the late game pressure in one foul swoop. With the Lions attempting a late stage rally stemming off a couple of monster dunks by Ty Vogel and JJ Howard, Picco helped faze out all momentum with some clutch shooting from all angles on the floor, knocking down basket after basket to put the Raiders on his back until the end.
As a result, it garnered the team their ninth win in the last 10 games and a sweep of the Sheriff’s Classic twinbill to give Steuben County a 2-0 series lead heading into the slate of five on Saturday with a 59-46 win.
“Gennaro’s great. He never surprises me, because I see the work he continues to put in every day,” said Raiders coach Kirk Scholes. “His ability, his talent level is unbelievable. He can make shots from anywhere on the floor, and tonight, he did that. He hit some big shots, especially when Wellsville was starting up a mini-run to try and get back into the game. He came through for us tonight with a clutch basket almost each time he held onto the ball to keep them an arm’s length away. We need him. I’m proud of his effort, everyone’s effort from this game tonight.”
Lions head coach Tom Muska added on Picco’s performance for the Raiders, saying “They had some great shooting. Those Picco boys are an anomaly from what I’ve seen the past couple of years. They played like it today, and they’re some of the best shooters I’ve seen us go up against, ever. If they’re going to play like that, I don’t know if we find a way to win that game. It’s on us to figure out how we have to slow them down, and we unfortunately couldn’t find a way to do that today.”
Wellsville (8-4) was able to grab the start they wanted out of the gate and fast against Hornell, netting seven of the game’s first nine points behind a couple of inside baskets sandwiched in between a Cody Costello three-pointer. But just as fast, the early tide was turned to the Raiders with PJ Picco and his back-to-back three-pointers that pulled them ahead soon after.
The game would work its way towards an 11-11 tie down the stretch in the opening quarter before Hornell (9-2) found another opening in the Lions defense to springboard back out ahead with Gennaro Picco landing a three to go along with a nicely perfected juke from underneath the basket by Aaron McInerney to start up a strand of seven consecutive points. The Raiders would finish the opening quarter with eight of the last 10 points for a 19-13 lead.
Hornell’s signature full-court press would see its presence be felt by the Lions for much of the second quarter, but the team in white and orange would find their way to navigate through it to try and trim their deficit down to as little as three behind a pair of Costello runners to the basket. Holding the Raiders towards the edge, they would fight their way away from it with an 8-0 run through the next two minutes of gameplay with a pair of three-pointers in three possessions — both by Gennaro and PJ Picco, to branch the lead to 11.
Logan Dunbar however, would make sure that Wellsville would end the half with a little spark heading into the locker room, as he scored a high-rising jumper and a long three — the team’s last five points in the quarter to close the gap to six, at the break.
“I’m beyond proud of our guards, especially Cody tonight with the way he controlled the offense. I think teams use that press because they’re afraid of the damage that Logan could do,” said Muska. “Teams want to see what they can do to try and keep him from getting the ball. I’ve been telling the guards that Dansville, Attica, they never had to press. Tonight, Hornell used it and let off of it, and our big goal was to handle it. We did that. It’s something that we can walk away and be proud of.”
The cushion would remain right in between eight to 11 points between the two teams for much of the second half, but along the way it would offer plenty of momentum swings, beginning with Hornell’s ending to the third quarter where they closed out shop with seven of the last nine points to extend their lead back out to 11.
In the fourth quarter, the action ramped up.
One of the more notable runs from within the frame witnessed another Gennaro Picco three-pointer for the Raiders, along with two dunks in the next three possessions for the Lions, garnered by both Ty Vogel and JJ Howard to try and sway the momentum in their direction to force a timeout on the floor just past midway in the fourth quarter.
But with 3:33 to go, Picco would go on to put the Raiders on his back, using his expertise to deliver some more critical strikes from inside and out, along with a 3-for-5 outing at the charity stripe in the waning minutes to help close out the series sweep, and a 2-0 lead for Steuben County to carry into Saturday’s slate of five.
“They’re a great program,” Muska said of Hornell. “Everything that we’ve ever thrown at Kirk before, he always has an answer for. We threw a couple of different defenses at them, they had answers for each one of them. You don’t want to show too much this early, especially when you see them again another time in a couple of weeks, and maybe perhaps later than that down the road.”
As for Scholes, he says the win will help them figure out what the vision is like for the near future ahead.
“These games, the rivalry games, they’re always going to be tough, and they’re always going to be hard-fought.” he said. “Both teams are going to defend it really well. It was your typical Hornell-Wellsville game, and I was glad to come out on the winning end of it. There’s still work yet to be done. We need to keep grinding, keep on getting better. If we can do that, I like where we sit right now and hopefully see what’s there in the end for us, in the future.”
Picco would earn Player of the Game honors for the Raiders behind his game-high 26 point performance. Behind him was a 11-point effort from PJ Picco, while Wyatt Argentieri chipped in with six.
Costello would lead all Lions scorers with 12 team-high points. Logan Dunbar finished with 11 before fouling out of the contest, while Vogel and Howard each finished with eight points.
Listed below are the next contests all four Wellsville and Hornell teams will have coming up on their slate, after the weekend:
Hornell Boys: vs Newark at Keuka College, Monday 7:30 p.m.
Hornell Girls: vs Aquinas, Monday 7 p.m.
Wellsville Boys: vs Waverly at Keuka College, Monday 5 p.m.
Wellsville Girls: vs Andover/Whitesville, Thursday 7:30 p.m.
Sheriff’s Classic – Boys
Hornell 19 9 16 15 – 59
Wellsville 13 9 11 13 – 46
HORNELL: Gennaro Picco 7 8-13 26, PJ Picco 4 0-1 11, Shawn Rose 1 2-4 4, Wyatt Argentieri 3 1-2 7, Gates Miller 3 0-0 6, Aaron McInerney 2 0-0 5. Totals: 20 11-20 59.
WELLSVILLE: Cody Costello 4 3-4 12, Aidan Riley 1 0-2 2, Cooper Brockway 1 0-0 3, Asher Billings 1 0-1 2, Ty Vogel 4 0-0 8, Logan Dunbar 5 0-4 11, JJ Howard 4 0-1 8. Totals: 20 3-12 46.
3-point goals: Hornell 8 (G. Picco 4, PJ Picco 3, McInerney), Wellsville 3 (Costello, Brockway, Dunbar).
Total Fouls: Hornell 17, Wellsville 18. Fouled out: Dunbar (WLSV), Howard (WLSV).
PHOTO GALLERY BY STEVE HARRISON: