By Tom Williams
Even when his team trailed by seven points in the second quarter, Ursuline senior forward Ryan Strollo said he didn’t lose faith that his teammates would prevail against 21-win Brookfield.
Asked when he felt the Irish had Tuesday’s 47-40 win secure, Strollo didn’t hesitate.
“The second quarter when we came out strong and stayed with them,” said Strollo after scoring 18 points in the Division III district semifinal at Howland High. “We knew we weren’t playing our best basketball, but we knew it was just a matter of time.
“We just had to get a couple of calls to go our way, a couple of shots going our way, and we could take it.”
Strollo scored 11 points in the fourth quarter as the Irish (13-11) advanced to Saturday’s district final against LaBrae (21-3).
“The shots that he made in the fourth quarter at crunch time were [with] guys in his face,” Ursuline coach Keith Gunther said. “He was six feet behind the [3-point] line on one.
“Sometimes guys don’t want to lose, and I think he kind of put us on his back and made some big shots.”
Trailing 29-28 after three quarters, the Irish outscored the Warriors 19-11 down the stretch. Strollo sank a 3-pointer to open the final quarter, then made three more baskets and two free throws.
“We’re usually a team that shoots the ball pretty well, but we were struggling,” Strollo said. “In the fourth quarter, we finally made some shots — some tough ones, but we made them when we had to.”
Ryan Mosora, who led Brookfield with 13 points, was the only Warrior to make more than one basket in the final eight minutes. He scored six points in the final quarter.
“We didn’t get good shots,” Brookfield coach Bill Kovach said. “A lot of that had to do with [Ursuline].
“They were physical and we’ve played teams similar,” said Kovach, referring to East. “The difference in the game came down to rebounding toward the end. We didn’t have a few box-outs, especially with foul shots.”
Gunther credited senior forward Khalid Pierce’s defensive skills for containing Brookfield’s ace Jeremy Quinlan.
“The key to the game was how we played defensively,” Gunther said. “Khalid Pierce did a heck of a job on Quinlan. Khalid did a really nice job to slow him down.
“And we rebounded the ball extremely well,” said Gunther referring to a 27-18 advantage. Kevin Jackson led the Irish with eight rebounds.
The Warriors took an 11-8 lead into the second quarter, then surged with an 11-7 run capped by Collin Harkulich’s third put-back basket.
Irish senior guard Preston Williams took his third foul with 4:26 remaining before halftime. But his loss didn’t faze the Irish, who scored the final six points of the half to slice Brookfield’s lead to 22-21.
For the Irish, Williams scored 13 points and Desmond McElroy made eight points and four steals.
Quinlan scored 12 points, Harkulich contributed eight points and six rebounds, and point guard Jimmy Quinlan’s five points included a late 3-pointer.
“You could tell those kids are all not just basketball players,” Gunther said. “They are athletes and you could tell that’s why those guys went far in the tournament and football. They’re competitive, they’re nasty, they’re tough and physical.
“And that was my fear coming in,” Gunther said. “Early in the game, I thought their physicalness bothered us.”
Kovach said his four seniors leave with a 54-11 record the past three seasons.
“They all had great careers, they’re all going to play basketball, baseball or football in college,” Kovach said. “They have nothing to hang their heads about.”