According to sophomore forward Collin Stewart, he and his teammates on the Avon Lake boys basketball team were having fun on their home floor Jan. 29.

With the blistering offensive pace the Shoremen set against visiting North Ridgeville–especially in the first half–it was easy to see.

For the first time in a season ravaged by three COVID-19 quarantines, they started to feel comfortable and rode a wave of hot shooting to a 78-51 victory.

“We’ve been talking all year about playing as a team, playing together,” junior guard Ryan York said. “We had a rough start, so this gets everybody’s confidence up.”

The Shoremen (2-6, 2-5 Southwestern Conference) exploded out of the gate with dominant play on both ends of the floor. Led by Stewart and York, they took a 21-7 lead after one quarter and didn’t let up, scoring 31 in the second period for a 52-24 halftime lead.

Stewart got the Shoremen rolling with six of his 10 points in the first frame, then York was a flamethrower off the bench, scoring 16 straight points from the end of the first quarter to midway through the second quarter to help put his team up big. York hit four 3-pointers and finished with 18 points.

“I’ve been a shooter for years, so it feels great,” York said. “I’ve put a lot of work in through the years, been in the gym for a lot of hours, so it’s good to see that pay off at the varsity level.”

While Stewart and York were spark plugs for the Shoremen offense, they were actually led in scoring by sophomore reserve Matthew Stuewe, who finished with a game-high 22. He scored 18 of that total in the second and third quarters. Senior guard Gage Duesler added 11 to give the Shoremen four players in double figures.

In coach Eric Smith’s view, it was the first time his team had looked how he’d envisioned before the season started–a tough bunch that could run, defend and piece together scoring runs. A deep playoff run by the football team meant the basketball season already wasn’t going to start on time, then the team was forced to quarantine on three separate occasions, missing out on 42 days.

Until beating the Rangers (7-7, 6-6 SWC), they’d been struggling in their limited regular season opportunities, picking up one win in nearly two months. Prior to Jan. 29, they were able to practice on back-to-back days for the first time all season.

“I think we really started going hard in practice (this week),” Stewart said. “We were getting after each other, pushing each other. We didn’t get the start we wanted and we knew we could play better. Now we’ve started to play better, and it was good to get a win.”

For one night, at least, they looked like they hadn’t missed a beat. In addition to shooting 65% during their first-half barrage and 48% for the game, they also caused 11 Ranger turnovers and outrebounded them 36-24. Michael Stuewe and Michael Corbo each grabbed eight rebounds.

“What I thought happened was this was kind of what we wanted to look like as a team since over the summer and before the season started,” Smith said. “(We want to) get after people defensively, talk and be aggressive and then push and run in transition.”

The Rangers outscored the Shoremen by one point, 27-26, in the second half, but the margin grew as high as 33 points, making the game’s final 16 minutes seem like a march to the inevitable. Senior forward Caden Masterson scored a team-high 11, followed by four players with six. Nate Theus added four points, a team-high five rebounds and three assists.

“(Avon Lake) had an unbelievable start”, Rangers coach Bryan Morgan Said. “I didn’t think that we played with a lot of heart when it started, which was something that was a key for us, to leave it all out there tonight. (Avon Lake) definitely did. Not only did they play hard, they played well...Every time we’d get a stop, we’d turn it over or give up an offensive rebound, and that’s a recipe for disaster from the start.”

Avon Lake has a pair of home games set for the end of this week, hosting Midview on Thursday and Berea-Midpark on Saturday, both beginning at 7 p.m. North Ridgeville will head to Westlake on Friday for a 7 p.m. tip.

Contact this reporter at sports@westlifenews.com or 440-871-5797.

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