By tim cleveland
For the first half of its game Saturday against Warren JFK, the McDonald High boys basketball team looked like it would have an easy time advancing to a Division IV district semifinal.
The Blue Devils had a commanding 36-15 lead, having outscored the Eagles 24-3 in the second quarter.
However, like it has done several times in the last few seasons, “Kardiac Kennedy” rallied and pushed McDonald to the limit, getting within two points in the fourth quarter before falling 61-54 at Warren Harding High School.
Blue Devils coach Jeff Rasile said his team made errors that helped Warren JFK get back in the game.
“We came out the first possession of the second half and make a stupid pass; second possession take a stupid shot,” Rasile said. “We talk to them every day about this stuff. They don’t seem to get it. We’ve got to clean some things up.”
Having pulled to within 46-33 through three quarters, Warren JFK (5-19) continued to chip away in the fourth. Luke Keck hit the first of his three fourth-quarter 3-pointers to get the Eagles to within 10 points. His third 3-pointer made the score 50-45 with 3:07 to play.
Warren JFK coach Shawn Pompelia said a change in defense was a key in the rally.
“We played them matchup zone, then it kind of got away from us in the second quarter,” Pompelia said. “We just went flat-out man in the third and fourth.”
When Robert Seger made a pair of free throws to pull Warren JFK to within 52-50 with 1:34 remaining, it appeared McDonald (20-4) would collapse and surrender its lead.
But the Blue Devils held on, making 9 of 12 free throws the rest of the way.
Dominic Naples gave the Eagles one last gasp, converting a three-point play to make the score 56-53 with 39.2 seconds remaining.
Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., the Blue Devils will play a team that is very similar to itself — undefeated Bristol, which routed Jackson-Milton 72-29 in the other game.
“It’s a different mentality. Jackson-Milton came out and played really hard,” Bristol coach Craig Giesy said. “We shot a lot of free throws, we just didn’t make many (21 of 37). Now that we’re past the sectional, we’re ready to go Tuesday night.”
Chad Oliver paced Bristol (24-0) with 24 points, including four 3-pointers. Mike Assion paced Jackson-Milton (2-21) with seven points.
Giesy and Rasile said Tuesday’s district semifinal should be an outstanding game.
“It’s a game a lot of people have been talking about,” Giesy said. “It’s a matchup a lot of people wanted to see. It’s something these guys have heard; McDonald’s better than you, McDonald’s better than you. It’s something [the Bristol players] want to see what kind of basketball team they are.”
Rasile said, “We’ve seen them three or four times. It’s going to be a good game. It’ll be up-tempo. The ball’s going to be flying around. It should be a fun game to watch.”