Next: Wellsville vs. McDonald, Friday, 7 p.m., at Struthers High School.
By Greg Gulas
All Wellsville’s Michael Johnston wanted was the ball in his hands with the Division IV district semifinal game on the line against Youngstown Christian.
That proved the wise choice as he responded with a game-high 23 points while the Tigers’ defense limited the Eagles to just 18 second-half points, in Wellsville’s 57-49 victory on Tuesday night at the Struthers Fieldhouse.
The win set Wellsville up with a showdown against ITCL rival McDonald on Friday for the regional berth.
“We struggled out of the gate but picked up the tempo as the opening quarter progressed,” said Johnston.
“I love the ball at crunch time and with five seniors on our team we have some excellent upperclass leadership,” he added.
“This class has never beaten McDonald and if we expect to do that this year then we had better be able to break their press,” said Johnston.
Five points each by Johnston and Christian Kapp in the opening quarter helped the Tigers (17-6) build an 18-15 advantage.
Six points by the Eagle’s Devaun Adams offset six markers by Johnston and five points by Wellsville’s Sean Hudson as Youngstown Christian (10-11) outscored the Tigers, 15-13 to pull to within one, 31-30 at halftime.
Eagles coach Dolph Carroll praised his team’s overall effort.
“We had a great season, no doubt about it,” he said. “To lose to Newton Falls by 20 and then advance in the tourney like we did shows you the character of this team.
“Wellsville is an excellent team, but give our players credit because they just don’t quit,” he added.
“Our players play hard no matter what the score and if you make a shot here and there, the outcome tonight might just be a little different,” Carroll said.
In analyzing the third quarter, both teams probably wished that they could play over what was arguably the most inauspicious eight minutes of the game.
The Tigers could manage just 3 of 14 from the field and the Eagles just two buckets in 14 tries as Wellsville outscored YCS 7-6 int he quarter to take a 38-36 lead.
A bucket by the Eagles’ Louis Lee just 28 seconds into the final period tied the score at 38-all, but the Tigers, on the strength of Johnston’s seven markers, outscored the Eagles in the frame, 19-13 to secure their fifth consecutive victory.
“I thought we did a great job tonight defensively when we had to and that was critical,” said Wellsville coach David “Bug” Thompson.
“It’s been a while since I’ve beaten McDonald. We lost to them by 32 points last year and that still doesn’t sit well with me.
“We will need everyone to step up their game a notch because you just know that coach [Jeff] Rasile will have his team ready to play on Friday night,” Thompson said.
Wellsville’s Jalen Desarro had a team high 12 rebounds, also adding six assists to go along with his 11 points in the game.
The Blue Devils are the No. 1seed and will put their 22-game win streak on the line against the Tigers on Friday.
Adams had a team-high 20 points for Youngstown Christian.