The goal this entire season for the Fairview Warriors boys basketball team has been to win a district championship. After dropping from Division II to Division III at the start of the year, thus leaving the North Ridgeville district in which local powerhouse Cleveland Central Catholic has a stronghold, that goal seemed more realistic than ever.
Unfortunately for the Warriors, as the clock hit triple-zeros in overtime Monday night at Bedford High School, that dream was dashed as Fariview fell to Warrensville Heights 100-96 in the Division III Bedford District semifinal. The Tigers will play Friday for a district title against the winner of Tuesday night’s game between Elyria Catholic and Crestwood.
“I’m proud of those guys,” Warriors coach Ryan Barry said. “We played well enough to win. A couple plays here and there didn’t go our way (and), obviously, we just didn’t get the stops when we needed them. When you play that hard, you play that kind of intensity for that long, something’s gotta give. We just got a little gassed, missed some bunnies, missed some free throws but you can’t doubt effort with them.”
Fairview, the top seed in the district, hung with the fourth-seeded Tigers for the majority of the game and held leads at numerous points. Against Warrensville Heights’ superior length, the Warriors were forced to abandon their 3-point shooting and take to drawing contact down low.
“Our philosophy all year has been, your bigs gotta guard our littles on the perimeter,” Barry said. “And if we think we can get a head of steam and get them on our hip, we’re good enough finishers that no matter how long a guy is, I think we use our bodies pretty well. We don’t get blocked too often. I thought did a nice job getting to the rim, we didn’t settle, we pushed the tempo on them and we scored way more than enough to win the game.”
That gameplan worked for the most part in the first half as Fairview was 14-for-20 from inside the arc, made 10-of-12 free throws and led 44-37 at halftime. The Warriors’ Noah Mesaros (14 points) and Luke Howes (11 points) were the high scorers in the half. In the second half, the Warriors’ touch from the line fell cold as the team shot 10-of-18 in the second half and overtime.
Starting the third, Warrensville Height caught fire from three and went on a lengthy run to tie the game at 50 just over midway through the quarter. The Tigers, which shot just 2-for-9 from behind the arc in the first half, drained five of their seven attempts in the third quarter, four coming from junior guard Ramelle Arnold.
Just a minute-and-a-half later, the Warriors pulled ahead 58-52, only for Warrensville Heights to draw even at 59 with 1:35 left in the third. Arnold’s fourth 3-pointer of the quarter came at the buzzer and cut Fairview’s lead to 63-62 after the third. Arnold finished with a team-high 33 points with four assists, five rebounds and two steals.
Throughout the game, Howes was face-guarded and double-teamed by Tigers defenders. Despite that pressure, the Warriors’ senior leader took it upon himself to pace the offense in the fourth quarter, often dribbling through the entire Warrensville Heights defense. That tenacity gave him 13 points in the quarter on 4-of-5 shooting. He added another seven in overtime, making two of his three shots.
In his final game with Fairview, Howes finished with 36 points, five assists, seven rebounds and four steals.
“Luke’s incredible. He didn’t want to go out like this. None of us did,” Barry said. “He was willing to take the team, put it on his back and he knew he could get by anybody. We do play pretty good team basketball but sometimes you gotta set a ball screen and let Luke do his thing and support him around the outside and be ready for shooters. Incredible effort by him. I guarantee he would turn in those 36 (points) for a win. That’s all he cares about.”
Howes’ scoring put Fairview up 74-68 midway through the fourth but, as was the case for much of the game, Warrensville Heights tied it 78-78 with 2:00 left. The Warriors extended the lead to five points (83-78) and four points (85-81) late in the quarter but a four-point play for Arnold tied the game at 85 with 40.6 seconds left in the fourth.
Tied at 87, Fairview turned the ball over immediately after an inbound, giving the Tigers on last possession in the fourth quarter to make a game-winning shot. Arnold dribbled around and put up a shot from just inside the arc which clanged off the rim, securing overtime.
Both teams traded overtime baskets up through a 91-91 tie, until Warrensville Heights senior guard Omahn Dobbins knocked down a 3-pointer with 1:55 left. On back-to-back Fairview possessions, Howes made a pair of free throws and a two-pointer, cutting the lead to 96-95 with 35.7 seconds left. Trailing 98-95, Howes split a pair of free throws for the Warriors final point before Arnold iced the game with two free throws.
Though the season ended two rounds earlier than the team had hoped, Barry said what this group accomplished this season has raised the bar for upcoming Warrior teams. Monday night marked the end of seven seniors careers with Fairview (Howes, Mesaros (22 points), Martin Lowry (15 points), Justin Younkin, Marty Rehor (four points), Ryan Eckert and Max Meany).
“Those kids set the standard here and it’s going to be a tough standard to keep,” Barry said. “The things they were able to accomplish, the things they do for each other, for the school (and) for the community, those are hard to replicate. We got a hungry group of young guys that want to do it as well.
“The success we’ve had is nothing to do with me,” Barry added. “It is a product of the players we have. The leadership amongst them, the willingness to do whatever it takes. Those kids made this program what it is, it has nothing to do with me. I just wish I could have done something better to come away with it because they deserve everything.”
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