There is a familiarity amongst the members of the Avon Lake boys basketball roster that was built long before anyone first put on a Shoremen uniform. That familiarity has oftentimes worked to their benefit when the going has gotten tough on the court.
Such a situation presented itself Wednesday night when visiting North Ridgeville had cut the Shoremen’s to 42-40 early in the fourth quarter and had a chance to tie or take a lead.
With 6:30 left in regulation, Avon Lake players chatted amongst each other, shouted encouragement and reminded themselves to hang tough on defense, then let the offense follow. The conference worked, as the Shoremen closed the game on a 16-0 run and secured a 60-42 victory, their third over the Rangers (4-19) this season.
Senior point guard Cristian Perry led the Shoremen (15-8) with 17 points — 12 in the fourth — while seniors Nate Sidloski and Nick Marsh, and junior Nate Murtaugh, all scored nine. Sidloski and Marsh led the team with five rebounds and three assists each.
“Our senior leadership really proved big,” Perry said. “I think we buckled down on the defensive end and that’s what really jumpstarted us. We all talk in the huddle, on the bench. We always talk about things to do, so I think that really propelled our run and buckled us down at the end.”
After stopping the Rangers on that pivotal play, Perry knocked down a 3-pointer from the right corner to put the Shoremen, seeded fifth in the Elyria District, up 47-42. After stifling a Bryce Neumann drive, they locked into their half-court offense, working the ball around to find the perfect angle. Perry cut toward the basket and senior Hunter Simons led him with a pass for an easy layup and a 49-42 lead.
“At the end of the game, when you want to spread the floor, (Perry’s) the guy, you want the ball in his hands,” Shoremen coach Eric Smith said. “He got things going and was keeping the ball moving, and then, he’s an 80% free throw shooter, so you want the ball in his hands to make some shots down the stretch.”
It seemed the Shoremen were clicking. They shot 5-for-6 in the fourth and, once the Rangers fouled them into the bonus, made 7-of-13 free throws to ice the game. Defensively, they held the Rangers to 2-12 shooting and cut off numerous drives into the paint using their size advantage.
“I think our defense kind of led some of our offense,” Perry said. “We got it up the floor, started to get the ball in and out and get some cuts, and I think that got us some easy shots. We’ve got a lot of guys that gave us some energy, and that really helped us.”
Frustrations boiled over for the 12th-seeded Rangers in the final minute, whem shoves were exchanged and a pair of technical fouls issued. Perry took six consecutive free throws, making four to push the lead to 60-42 with one second left. On the ensuing inbound, he was shoved to the ground near the far sideline, causing the coaching staffs and referees to rush over and separate the fuming players.
No Shoremen were whistled and the game was over. They’ll travel to fourth-seeded Berea-Midpark Saturday for a 7 p.m. sectional final.
“They understand what they have to do to keep their poise,” Smith said. “A lot of those guys are football guys. They know you’ve got to be able to keep your emotions in check. We’ve got other things we’ve got to do. We’ve got a game on Saturday night now and they’ve got to keep their heads about them and move on.”
The Shoremen led by as many as nine points in the first half, but the Rangers managed to stay close. Down 24-15 midway through the second quarter, the Rangers used a 10-5 stretch to go into halftime down just four, 29-25. A Neumann three early in the third pulled them within one, 31-30, before the Shoremen scored six straight to increase their lead.
The Rangers pulled to within three at the end of the third, 41-38, and had their shot to tie or take the lead early in the fourth, but couldn’t break through the barrier before the Shoremen collected themselves. It was the end of a rebuilding season for the Rangers with an entire team that had no varsity experience before this year. All but two players, seniors Mason Grow and Eddie Laviano, will be back.
“Our guys just couldn’t get the ball in the hole in the last five minutes,” Rangers coach Bryan Morgan said. “We were getting there, but they’ve got bigger guys with more experience, and we just weren’t able to do it for four straight quarters. I was extremely proud of our effort for the first 27 minutes tonight. We showed resiliency staying in the game after getting down early.”
Junior Nate Theus led North Ridgeville with 14 points, Neumann scored nine and Grow added five points and a team-high seven rebounds off the bench.
The Shoremen will attempt to make it three-consecutive wins against the Titans, who battled them in a pair of tight regular-season contests. Avon Lake won by scores of 55-54 and 51-48.
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