Elyria Catholic High School, top-seeded Lorain, was determined to take away Avon Lake’s outside shooting to force the fifth-seeded Shoremen to run an inside-out offense instead in Wednesday’s Division I district semifinal on Wednesday..
The Titans (16-8) eventually got their way and locked down the perimeter defensively while hitting seven timely 3-pointers of their own to beat the Shoremen 60-46.
Lorain will play in its fifth-consecutive district title game, against either seventh-seeded Lakewood or 11th-seeded Elyria, Saturday at 7 p.m.
“Our goal was to chase (Avon Lake) off the three-point line, and you’ve got to make good-shooting teams do other things,” Titans coach John Rositano said. “They started to have to post up and do other things, and that’s not their strength. Their strength is making threes, then posting up off the shots they’re making.”
“Once we took their threes away, I thought we had them right where we wanted them,” he added.
The two teams had met before on Dec. 28, with Lorain pulling out a 71-68 win in which the Shoremen (16-9) knocked down 10 threes and won the rebounding battle 34-25. The second time around, the Titans set a pace they preferred, forcing 15 Shoremen turnovers and out-rebounding them 28-27.
After taking the lead late in the first quarter on a personal 8-0 run by reserve guard Jamir Billings, the Titans held the Shoremen to 13-of-43 shooting the rest of the night, including 1-for-11 from three. Once the outside shots weren’t falling, they started to clamp down in the paint.
Avon Lake’s resident sharpshooter, senior guard Tanner Russell, scored eight of his game-high 13 points in the first quarter, but was manned closely thereafter and shot 2-7 the rest of the way. The trio of guard Ryan Shinko and forwards Nate Murtaugh and Nate Sidloski, who’d burned the Titans for a combined six threes and 34 points in December, scored just 12 and were 0-5 from distance.
Sidloski finished with 10 points and a team-high nine rebounds, Shinko scored two and Murtaugh was held scoreless with two rebounds. Nick Marsh scored nine off the bench, and Cristian Perry had six.
“When you play a team like (Lorain), you can’t miss free throws and you’ve got to be efficient offensively,” Shoremen coach Eric Smith said. “We knew they were going to come out and pressure us, but I thought, for the most part, we did a pretty good job of handling it. We had too many empty possessions in the first half, and they got comfortable.”
After Russell hit a three to put the Shoremen up 15-10 in the first, Billings answered with threes on back-to-back possessions to put the Tians ahead 16-15, then turned a steal into a layup at the other end for an 18-15 advantage. The Titans put their stamp on the game in the second, outscoring the Shoremen 21-10, including a 12-4 closing stretch that put them ahead 39-26 at halftime once junior Seth Wilson drained a three at the buzzer.
Before that run started, Russell had connected on a three that temporarily brought the Shoremen back to within six, 28-22, with less than four minutes remaining.
“We miss a shot at the rim, and then they come down and hit a three at the buzzer, and instead of it being eight (points down), it’s 13,” Smith said of Lorain’s run before the half. “And that’s tough. They’re good. That’s a good basketball team.”
The Shoremen briefly cut the lead to 44-34 on a Sidloski bucket midway through the third, but the Titans closed the frame on a 7-2 run and led by as many as 17 points in the fourth before both benches were emptied. Billings led his team with 12 points and six rebounds, while Wilson, Deonte Benejan and Jordan Jackson each scored 11. Jackson was a force at both ends with 10 rebounds, three steals and three blocks.
Wednesday was the final go-round for a talented and tight-knit Shoremen senior class, consisting of Russell, Shinko, Sidloski, Perry, Marsh, Creed Bolognia and Hunter Simons.
“I thought our guys really competed tonight,” Smith said. “I’m proud as heck of those guys. We went out and competed nose-to-nose with them, and it is what it is.”
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