By Greg Gulas
Prior to Tuesday’s boys’ basketball game with Boardman, Struthers head coach Jim Franceschelli said that the Spartans were a very deceiving team, adding that their 3-6 record was not indicative of the type of team his childhood friend, Pat Birch, was coaching.
For the first time in six games, Birch said he felt as if his Spartans played the type of game they are capable of playing and at both ends of the court.
JaJuante Young had a game-high 17 points, Holden Lipke added 16 and Ryan Archey scored 14 points as the Spartans stopped the Wildcats, 71-48 in an All-American Conference game at the Struthers Field House.
The win broke a six-game losing streak for Boardman (4-7) while the Wildcats (5-7) fell for the second consecutive time and the third time in the four outings.
“All season we’ve given the effort, but tonight we moved the ball really well, especially in the third quarter,” Lipke said. “In practice, our ball movement has been exceptional but we’ve struggled translating that area into game situations.”
Trailing 22-19 at 4:29 of the second period, the Spartans used a 27-7 run over the next 9:27 to open a 47-29 margin and a lead the Wildcats could not overcome.
“Our run from the middle of the second quarter to the middle of the third period was the key,” Lipke said. “Up to that point they kept the game close. During our run, we came out of time-outs and were able to keep the run going. That was huge.”
Seven points by Lipke in the opening frame staked Boardman to the early 14-9 advantage, but a triple by Trey Metzka cut the deficit to 14-12 with a little over a minute remaining.
When Carson Ryan nailed the first of his two triples as time expired, the Wildcats took a 15-14 lead heading to the second quarter.
Four points by Metzka then helped Struthers open a 22-19 margin at 4:29 until halftime.
A three-point play by Young knotted the game at 22-all at the 3:04 mark, the Spartans finishing the period on a 8-3 run as they opened a 27-25 lead heading to the half.
“Coach [Birch] told us before the game to go out and play our best and good things would happen,” Young said. “When we pass the ball we’re a really good team. When we play selfishly, we struggle.”
Share the ball the Spartans did as they assisted on 20 of their 28 field goals with Struthers adding 10 assists on their 19 fielders.
“Five of our losses this season came in really close games that could have gone either way, so we felt as though we weren’t too far off,” Birch said. “We have a lot of individual talent and when we share the ball, we can be a great team. We’ve already seen that at times this season.”
Birch and Franceschelli love competing against one another.
“Jim and I grew up together, my family is from Struthers and we are still very good friends to this day,” Birch said. “Tonight we needed to find ourselves, and did. A win like this will hopefully lead to another, then another and allow us to build some momentum the rest of the way.”
Young’s 10 points, including two triples, and buckets from beyond the arc from Archey and Mike Melewski helped the Spartans outscored the Wildcats, 24-7 after intermission as they opened a 51-32 advantage with one quarter remaining.
Tyrese Hawkins scored all eight of his points in the final period for Struthers, but the closest they could get was 66-45 with 3:01 remaining.
“When you shoot 56 percent from the field, but commit 29 turnovers, it’s tough to walk off the court with a win,” Franceschelli said. “Pat and I have been best friends our whole lives, so give them credit because they came out and made a statement. They wanted it more than us tonight, but we’ll learn from this, rebound and get ready now for Hubbard and Western Reserve.”
Metzka was the only Wildcats player in double figures, finishing with 13 points, including 10 in the opening half.