WILLIAMSVILLE — Excitement was in the air Friday night as the Tonawanda boys basketball team tipped of its season. But that excitement quickly turned to apprehension when center Clayton Hess had to be helped out of the gym after injuring his ankle on the opening tip.
The senior tried to play through the pain but he was laboring badly, and coach Hank Hughes took his star out of the game to prevent further injury. He was then carried out of the gym, leaving his Warriors team to battle Christian Central Academy all by itself.
It was ugly at first but Tonawanda managed to recover from the shock of losing Hess, and escaped with a 47-40 comeback win.
The Warriors were ice cold in the opening half, and at times seemed completely out of sync with the ball. Hughes told his team at halftime that it had to relax and play better because he knew his players were stunned by the loss of Hess, who will be out four to six weeks after suffering a high ankle sprain, according to Hughes.
"We really had to gut it out there, I mean we didn't play very well," Hughes said. "We worked hard and did what we could, but I think we were in a little bit of shock there for a bit when Clayton went down."
Hess's top target on the football field did his best to pick up for his fallen quarterback. Sophomore Tristan Boling scored a team-high 17 points and made several key plays for the Warriors down the stretch.
Crusaders guard Caleb Moser scored a game-high 23 points in the loss for CCA, and hit one of his four 3-pointers to put CCA up 36-32 early in the fourth quarter. Boling got the ball at the top of the key and stepped into a triple of his own. He followed that up with an aggressive drive to the basket to draw a foul. He hit both free throws to put the Warriors up for good.
"(Tristan) did a great job. If it wasn't for him we would have lost," Hughes said. "I think he was nervous at first and he didn't look too confidant. So I told him at halftime to relax and to play his game and he did. He made some real big shots. For his first game as a sophomore, that's pretty clutch."
Hess did score six points while hobbling around on his injured ankle, but it was obvious he was laboring pretty badly. Senior guard Tyler Hughes stepped up in Hess's absence as well.
Coach Hughes said he'd expect nothing less from Tyler Hughes.
"He's a warrior and he'll always gut it out," Hank Hughes said. "I said, 'Hey, you're the captain. You have to step up." He really did."
Hughes finished with nine points and senior Nick Pullo put in 11 points. The Warriors travel to Roy-Hart on Tuesday for a 7 p.m. tip.