Devils ignite for 2nd-half spurt
Next: McDonald vs. Southern, Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Next: Springfield vs. Campbell at Salem, Monday, 6:30 p.m.
By Tom Williams
The confidence which comes from playing for a program that hasn’t lost a regular-season game in more than three years was on display on Tuesday in the McDonald High gymnasium.
Playing the second-place team in the Inter Tri-County League Tier One, the ITCL Tier Two champion Blue Devils overcame a rare halftime deficit by outscoring Springfield 23-4 in the third quarter en route to a 58-44 victory. It was McDonald’s 62 consecutive victory in the regular season.
Senior guard Louie Ronghi triggered McDonald’s 17-0 run that closed the third quarter but hitting two 3-pointers within 20 seconds, wiping out Springfield’s 28-25 lead.
Classmate Justin Rota soon added a layup and a trey of his own as the Blue Devils (19-0, 13-0 ITCL Tier Two) ran away.
“It was a big momentum change, it opened up the lane so our drives could drive,” said Rota of Ronghi’s shots. “In the first half, we weren’t getting our shots so when he hit those, it gave us momentum. It was a big help.”
In the first two quarters, Springfield (14-6, 11-3) defended well, allowing the Blue Devils just one basket in the first eight minutes. McDonald was 1-for-13 to start the game, easily the Blue Devils’ least impressive quarter of the season.
“We didn’t struggle defensively in the first half,” McDonald coach Jeff Rasile said. “It was just that we couldn’t shoot. Sometimes you have those nights and we really haven’t had those nights before, someone’s always been hitting.”
Senior Matthias Tayala’s strong presence underneath the basket in the second quarter kept the Tigers from getting a double-digit advantage. Tayala made four baskets and pulled down three rebounds as the Tigers opened up a 24-19 lead at intermission.
“To be down by five at halftime, we weren’t that worried,” Rota said. “What we try to do is wear teams down and it usually hits them in the third and fourth quarter.”
Rasile said the main adjustment at halftime “was to change the press a little bit. They were going right back to the inbounder so we started guarding the inbounder right off the get-go.”
Two baskets by Nick Rota early in the third quarter helped slice Springfield’s lead to 26-23. Then McDonald’s speed and aggressive defense took over.
“Louie came out in the third quarter and hit some threes for us and it changed the complexion of the game,” Rasile said. “Louie hits two threes, the fans start going crazy and the press becomes that much harder to break.”
Springfield coach Eric Fender said the difference in the second half was the Blue Devils’ intensity.
“They play hard,” Fender said. “They are relentless at what they do. “We let them get on a run and it really got their confidence [going],” Fender said.
Nick Rota led McDonald with 18 points and three steals while Justin Rota had 15 points and five steals. Tayala’s numbers included 14 points, eight rebounds and two blocks.