By Joe Scalzo
It took almost 103 minutes, a can of Cherry Coke, a bottle of water and a season’s worth of patience, but East High boys basketball coach Dennis Simmons was finally able to exhale.
There was 31.5 seconds left, junior Anthony Reid was at the free throw line trying to build on a four-point lead and Simmons looked at someone in the crowd and said, “We good.”
The game wasn’t.
The win was.
Despite committing 30 turnovers, two technical fouls (including one in the final two minutes) and far too many “silly fouls,” the Panthers held off Warren Harding for a 63-58 victory in Friday’s Division I sectional final at Alliance High School.
“Ugly. Don’t like it. But at the end of the day, we’re still playing,” said Simmons, who spends most of the game clapping, screaming or drinking. “That’s all that matters.”
Deontay Scott scored 12 points and grabbed 18 rebounds for East (18-6), which will meet top-seeded Uniontown Lake at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. The Blue Streaks rallied to beat Canfield 54-51 in Friday’s nightcap.
Terrell McClain added 16 points for East, which seemed ready to pull away several times, only to watch the Raiders make a run (usually at the end of each quarter) to keep the game close.
“The thing we talked about last game was the attention to detail,” said Simmons. “Silly fouls put key guys in foul trouble and on the bench.
“When you’re ready to pull away, you can’t shoot yourselves in the foot. We don’t have any more feet left.”
Mik’quan Dorsey scored 16 points to lead three Raiders in double figures, but Harding never quite solved East’s 3-2 zone. The Raiders had 24 steals (a preposterous number for the high school level) but committed 28 turnovers of their own.
“When you play fast, I tell them all the time you have to switch gears,” said Harding coach Andy Vlajkovich. “You can’t play crazy on defense, then turn around and play crazy on offense.
“We just looked completely out of rhythm tonight and I’m not sure why that is. There’s gonna be some soul searching.”
Canfield can sympathize. The Cardinals (18-6) jumped out to a 32-18 halftime lead and twice led by 16 points in the third quarter before faltering down the stretch.
The Blue Streaks (20-3), who were coming off a 10-day layoff, attacked the basket in the second half, using a 24-4 run to take the lead with three minutes left in the fourth quarter.
Marco DeLorenzo made a 3-pointer with 12 seconds left to get Canfield within two, 53-51, but Lake’s Alex Belinsky split a pair of free throws with 7.7 left and Mike Yourstowsky’s off-balance 3-pointer just before the buzzer never really had a chance.
“When you’re playing against a [Federal League] championship squad like Lake, you knew they were gonna push back,” said Canfield coach Todd Muckleroy.
“You knew they were gonna take the ball to the rim. We gave up some quick points and couldn’t stay in front of people and their [1-3-1] zone put us in a little bit of a twist.”
Alex Belinsky (18 points) and Mitchell Spotleson (17 points) both scored 10 in the fourth quarter as the Blue Streaks outscored the Cardinals 26-11.
Jarret Vrabel scored 14 points and grabbed 12 rebounds and Cole Pryjma added 11 points for Canfield, which shared the All-American Conference Red Division title.
“It’s tough to have to lose but you’ve got to look at the positives from this season,” Muckleroy. “Tonight doesn’t take away from what we accomplished.”