By Joe Scalzo
The first few seconds of his post-high school career began just 10 feet away from the celebration and Newton Falls senior Cody Dillon couldn’t even bring himself to walk away. So he took a knee near midcourt, bowed his head and cried.
That feeling won’t go away anytime soon.
“We picked a fine time to play our worst game of the season,” Tigers coach Roy Sembach said following Friday’s 43-37 loss to Berkshire in a Division III district final at Howland High School. “I was not disappointed in our effort — I was proud of our effort — but I was very disappointed in our play tonight.”
The fifth-seeded Badgers — who may have more bearded players than basketball players — flustered, frustrated and flummoxed the Tigers, who needed nearly 14 minutes to break double digits and made fewer than a quarter of their shots from the field.
After taking a 23-13 halftime lead, Berkshire led by double digits for most of the second half. But thanks to a pair of three-point plays by Dillon, the Tigers pulled within two, 39-37, with 1:25 left.
After Badger senior Tim Miller split a pair of free throws with 1:17 left, Dillon had a good look at a 3-pointer that wouldn’t go down. The Tigers ended up shooting 0 for 4 with a turnover over the final 80 seconds as Berkshire overcame some shaky free throw shooting to put the game away.
“Because I know our team, I never thought it wasn’t our night,” said Sembach, whose team also made just 5 of 12 from the line in the fourth quarter. “I always thought they’d have something and they proved me right by almost miraculously getting back in the ball game.
“It’s a major tribute to their character and their heart that we had a 3 in the air when we were down three with a minute to go. I don’t know how we didn’t lose by 30 or 40 points.”
Playing in his third district final in four years, Dillon scored 17 points but made just 6 of 20 from the field. Dillon, the school’s all-time leading scorer, was bumped and badgered all night, which was the plan, Berkshire coach Pete Moran said.
“We never wanted him to get comfortable,” said Moran. “Regardless of how ugly that game was — and, yes, it was an ugly basketball game — defensively we were phenomenal tonight.”
Berkshire senior Tim Goff, a 6-foot-7, brace-faced, Ashton Kutcher lookalike, scored 21 points with 14 rebounds for the Badgers (18-6), who will meet Orrville in Wednesday’s regional semifinal at the Canton Fieldhouse.
Senior guard Travis Smetana added 11 points but it was the unsung contributions of players such as senior point guard Kyle Blair (who looks like he should be in middle school) and junior Erick Burzanko (who looks like he should be in graduate school) that make Berkshire so effective.
“We’re a small community,” said Moran. “We probably have three basketball players. We have a baseball player and four football kids.
“That’s what we roll with and the kids accept their roles.”
Dale Kernen scored 13 points with 11 rebounds for the Tigers (20-4), who will lose six seniors, including four starters, to graduation.
“We’re losing a great group,” Sembach said. “I’m going to miss not going to practice on Monday.
“I’ll always be proud of them but the disappointing thing is I really thought we had a chance to go beyond this.”