The McDonald High School boys basketball team cruised to another district title Friday night at Struthers Fieldhouse, defeating Southern 96-43.
The Blue Devils move on to play Warren JFK in a regional semifinal on Tuesday at 8 p.m. at Canton Fieldhouse.
Dylan Portolese led all scorers with 25 points while Zach Rasile had 20, Braedon Poole scored 16 and Josh Celli finished with 13 in the win.
Max Hart scored 14 points to lead Southern Local.
Despite scoring 96 points, both coaches agreed it wasn’t McDonald’s offense or prolific shooting that was the biggest difference — it was the Blue Devils’ full-court press.
“We obviously work on press stuff all the time, and particularly leading up to this game, but it’s hard to simulate what they do,” Southern coach Aaron Blatch said.
Things didn’t get out of hand initially. The Indians took a 6-4 lead almost midway through the first quarter on a putback from Jacob Joiner.
But McDonald then went on a 22-0 run to nearly put the game out of reach just eight minutes in. During that run Southern did well just to get the ball past half court as the swarm of full-court pressure proved too much.
“We just brought the effort and caused chaos,” Poole said. “It’s fun playing that way.”
Southern’s lone senior, Dakota Wetzel, called McDonald’s press deceptive.
“If you just watch it on film, you’d see a lot of holes and open people but that’s what they do,” Wetzel said. “They run around and trap you and make it hard for you to find the open guy. They rotate hard.
“It’s not even man-to-man, it’s ‘We’re going to go trap the ball and make you turn it over.’”
Rasile hit six 3-pointers in the game, and four came during that 22-0 stretch.
“We shot in spurts,” McDonald coach Jeff Rasile said. “Zach had four 3s in the first quarter and then he didn’t hit anything for a little bit. Dylan Portolese really killed them with his aggressiveness and effort.”
Southern Local opened up the second quarter on a 9-2 run to get the score back within 11, but McDonald once again closed out the quarter strong on a 20-6 run to give itself a 48-23 lead at the half.
Southern was a bit of a Cinderella entering the game. The eighth-seeded Indians benefited from Wellsville and Western Reserve being eliminated by lower seeds in their first games and didn’t play anyone better than a seven seed before McDonald. Rasile said that left him with fewer ways to scout the underdog.
“I told them to just play hard because if you play hard eventually stuff is going to happen and shots will fall,” Rasile said. “We’ve got good shooters. Zach and Caleb [Emerson] are good shooters and then you’ve got Evan [Magill], Braedon, Josh Celli and Dylan on the boards.
“All I want them to do is play hard every single minute of every single game.”
The victory, coupled with JFK’s win over defending state champion Cornerstone Christian means an all-Mahoning Valley regional semifinal.
“I think it’s great for the Valley that we’re going down there and playing a local team,” Rasile said. “JFK is very, very good. [Antonio] McQueen is 6-8, their guards are 6-3 across the board, they’ve got athleticism and depth. We’ve got our hands full.”