STRUTHERS — Western Reserve High won the rubber match between two Inter Tri-County Tier 2 rivals in opening night action at the Division IV boys basketball tournament at Struthers Fieldhouse.
The Blue Devils got 14 points each from Shane Ewing and Eric Kennehan to turn back Jackson-Milton, 55-50, and earn the right to face top-seed McDonald on Friday night for a sectional championship.
Western Reserve and Jackson Milton split tight regular season games on their home floors during the regular season so Monday’s matchup was expected to be another close encounter.
“We knew it was going to a tough game,” said Western Reserve coach Mike Falasca.
“It’s a rivalry game and we prepared like this game would not be any different from the first two games.”
The Devils (7-14) and Blue Jays played a close first quarter, before Western Reserve began to assert its running game and pulled out to a lead of 20-12 on a basket by Ewing.
Defensively, Western Reserve worked to stop Jackson-Milton’s leading scorer Jacob Carlile.
“Our game plan was to stop Carlile and [Bobby] Schnellback and let the rest of their guys beat us,” said Falasca. “We were able to keep Carlile under control until that fourth quarter when he got hot.”
By halftime, Western Reserve was on top 24-14.
“We aren’t a good enough team this year to be down by 10 points at halftime and comeback and win,” said first-year coach Joe Bornemiss. “We are a young team and in a couple of years with this program that will be possible but we can’t do it right now.”
But young Blue Jays didn’t quit.
“Oh no, these guys won’t quit,” Bornemiss said. “They play hard to the end in every game. Our tier has a lot of strong teams in it.”
After Western Reserve opened up a lead as much as 15 points at 48-33 midway through the third quarter, the Blue Jays pecked away at the lead.
Carlile scored seven of his 16 points in the third quarter and nine more in the fourth quarter to lead a comeback attempt.
Falasca said that his team did a good job of getting out to the big lead but needed to play with more poise down the stretch.
“We’ve been playing good basketball as of late,” Falasca said. “We’ve won four out of our last five I think and our football players are starting to play better basketball.”
One of those players is all-state quarterback Ewing who would like another shot at McDonald.
The Blue Devils and McDonald have had some epic battles on the football field where Ewing and his team have come up short so he would like to get one more chance.
“We have a nice rivalry with McDonald and haven’t been able to beat them in football or basketball the last couple of years although the games have been close,” Ewing said.
“Friday is one more chance and even though they are a great team, we’ll come to play.”