By JOE CATULLO JR.
Minding his own business, Mark Schuler exited Springfield Local High’s locker room Friday night when he heard his name mentioned by coach Eric Fender.
Schuler stuck his neck back into the locker room. He’s used to speeches on how he can improve his game. This time, it was the opposite. Schuler’s smile slowly grew larger. By the time Fender ended the conversation, the smile was still growing.
“He’s a big kid. He’s a big body inside, and there’s not many kids in the area that I think can match him in the post,” Fender said. “I don’t think there’s anybody height-wise that could guard him or contain him. He did a fantastic job on the offensive glass tonight.”
“Thanks, Coach,” Schuler said while giving a huge thumb’s-up. Schuler tallied a game-high 10 rebounds (six offensive) and scored five points in the Tigers’ 60-40 victory over South Range (2-12, 2-10).
Although the Tigers (11-4, 8-1) won by 20 points, they led by just three at halftime. Springfield forced seven turnovers and was leading, 20-13, at the end of the first quarter.
The Raiders then scored 18 points in the second quarter, most via the 3-point field goal. South Range nailed six 3-pointers in the first half with the majority coming in that second quarter. The Raiders trailed, 34-31.
“I was happy with the response the kids made from the punches in the mouths right off the bat,” South Range coach John Cullen said. “Getting back in the game in their gym is not easy to do. It’s just a matter of us finishing, and you got to finish plays by rebounding.”
The Tigers made 12 shots on 32 attempts in the first half. They hung on to the lead mainly because of their 15 offensive rebounds. They finished with 31 total (17 offensive).
“Coaches in the pre-game speech was saying that we needed to get offensive boards,” Schuler said. “It was going to help us win the game tonight.”
Nick Wiery and Mark Vennetti each hit three 3-pointers apiece. Shocked by a slim halftime lead, the Tigers pounced early.
The Raiders did not make another 3-pointer. In fact, South Range managed to score nine second-half points and only one in the fourth quarter.
Vennetti finished with a team-high 11 points off the bench while Wiery had 10.
“We had to make some defensive adjustments to try to limit what they did,” Fender said. “In the second half, our guards were really focused on finding them. Our philosophy going into the second half is we’re going to make someone else beat us besides those two.”
Graham Mincher led Springfield with a game-high 14 points. Jake Ohlin and Brandon Chamberlain each scored 10 points while Jordon Peterson had nine.
“If we can get a consistent effort from everybody doing what they need to do and not trying to do too much, that’s all we can ask for,” Fender said.