The crowd of 750 went away happy after the 114-110 win.
By JOE SCALZO
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
STRUTHERS -- The opening night for the Mahoning Valley Wildcats can be best told through the language of dunks.
First dunk. In the opening minutes of the third quarter, Wildcats center Chad Allen (who is 6-foot-11, by the way) gets a wide open chance. He misses. Wildcats trail 58-43.
Second dunk. Former YSU guard TeJay Anderson gets a wide open look with 1:50 remaining in the third quarter. He doesn't miss. Wildcats take their first lead since the first quarter, 74-73.
Third dunk. Allen gets another chance, this time on an alley-oop from Fess Irvin with 50 seconds to go in the game. He doesn't miss. Wildcats all but seal the game, 112-105.
Add it up? Not quite a slam dunk, but the Wildcats were good enough, beating the Akron Lightning 114-110 in Saturday's International Basketball League opener at Struthers Fieldhouse.
"This is the type of basketball everyone dreams of playing," said guard Joe Lewandowski, a Slippery Rock grad who now coaches at Butler High. "Up and down, trying to dunk, looking to score. It was a lot of fun."
Lewandowski finished with a game-high 24 points, scoring 12 in the third quarter as the Wildcats turned a 55-41 halftime deficit into an 81-75 lead.
"I didn't expect to get that hot," he said. "But you know what? We've got a lot of guys who can go off in spurts. And the best part is, when one guy gets hot, we really make the effort to get him the ball."
Struthers native Rick McFadden, fresh off his senior season at the University of Akron, added 23 points for Mahoning Valley and Anderson had 17. Sergio McClain (University of Illinois) had 10 points and Allen (LaBrae, Miami, Ohio) had seven.
"It was a good debut," said Wildcats coach Rob Spon. "We got a lot of guys who can play and I think we did a better job in the second half of coming out with intensity."
Jason Edwin, a Kent State graduate, led Akron with 31 points.
Overall, the opener went well, but it was not without glitches. Since the Wildcats players did not get their jerseys until Saturday morning, there were no rosters available with numbers for the fans. There was also no national anthem -- they recited the pledge of allegiance instead. But the referees called only obvious fouls, the game went briskly and the crowd of approximately 750 people went home happy.
"It was a nice crowd," said Lewandowski. "I think the people left here saying they enjoyed themselves."
In addition to be the IBL opener, the game also marked the return of minor league basketball to the Valley.
Youngstown's two previous minor league basketball teams -- the Youngstown Pride and the Youngstown Hawks -- had, ahem, uneven results.
The Pride, of the World Basketball League, were here for five years (1988-92) and had moderate success before the league folded.
The Hawks, meanwhile, were one of the biggest sports flops in Valley history. The Ted Stepien-owned International Basketball Association team came to Youngstown in the winter of 1999-2000 and went 4-15 in two months at the South Fieldhouse (renamed the Youngstown Sports Arena) before relocating to Canada.
Time will tell if the Wildcats can stick around, but at least the team got off to a good start.
"I want to thank all the people who came out and watched us tonight," Spon said. "We just need to keep winning and keep it going."