Lowellville cannot hold off McDonald
LOWELLVILLE — Fans make it a raucous environment every time McDonald and Lowellville hookup on the hardwood for a boys basketball game.
The rivalry has intensified in the last few seasons. Last year, McDonald swept the regular-season series before Lowellville bounced the Blue Devils from the district tournament.
Friday night was the latest chapter between the two schools with McDonald coming out on top, 91-69, in front of a packed Lowellville gymnasium.
The Rockets streaked out to a 19-9 advantage in the first quarter. Freshman Anthony Lucente (team-high 27 points) drilled 3-pointer and scored 18 first-quarter points. Fellow freshman Brady Bunofsky connected a pair from behind the arc as Lowellville.
“We’re young,” Lowellville coach Matt Olson said. “We started three freshman, a sophomore, and a junior. We’re in our fourth game. This is the first game we’ve seen a team as skilled as McDonald with their speed. I was proud of the way we came out. Maybe we got a little bit tired. We have some things to clean up, but I think we’ll be there in the end.”
The Blue Devils speed and skill caught up with the Rockets as McDonald inched back. However, Lowellville maintained the lead and had a 26-23 advantage after one quarter. Zach Rasile and Jake Portolese, who combined for 75 points, helped fuel the comeback effort by McDonald. Portolese dropped 17 first-half points, and Rasile went 8 of 8 at the free-throw line. Rasile’s 19 points, in the half, helped put McDonald on top.
Lowellville freshman Vinny Ballone’s lay-up at the buzzer got the Rockets within six, 46-40, as the teams headed to their locker rooms. One official waved the basket off while the other said it was good. Unfortunately for Lowellville, that was as close as the Rockets would get the remainder of the contest.
Rasile began the third with a deep, pull-up for 3. Vinny Ballone (20 points), who was the quarterback for the Rocket football team, had a nice runner in the lane. McDonald senior Ziad Aziz delivered to Portolese down low for a score. Lowellville’s Cole Bunofsky and John Loshuk hit back-to-back buckets, but Rasile and Parker Higgins helped McDonald build a 67-51 lead heading to the fourth. Higgins repeatedly stole the ball and cleaned up a miss under the hoop.
Rasile dominated the fourth, scoring 16 of his game-high 45 points in the frame. Portolese poured in 30 points as McDonald pulled away. Rasile had six lay-ups in the quarter, including a reverse finger roll, and finished a perfect 12 of 12 at the stripe. He also had a nice dish to Portolese and a beautiful no-look assist to Dominic Carkido.
Many of McDonald’s players were a little under the weather, battling colds.
“I’m feeling a little bit better after that win,” Rasile said. “A couple of our guys were sick. So, I’m just glad we were able to come in here and come out with a win. Lowellville hit some shots in the first half. We came out with a little more intensity after halftime. We started getting it going offensively. It was a good win for us.”
The Blue Devils (4-0) get right back at it, today at noon against Lakeview, in a holiday showcase at Poland Seminary High School.
“Tonight, we weren’t very good defensively in the first quarter,” McDonald coach Jeff Rasile said. “They hit some shots. Then, we withstood it and we took it to them from that point on. Lowellville is very young, and we took advantage of the situation. We have three starters sick. They’ve had the flu all night. We thought they were going to run off a couple times, but they maintained. We’re going to have to get these guys some fluids and get them ready for Lakeview.”