By STEVE GOLDMAN
For the Star Beacon
The Lake Catholic boys are historically tough on the basketball court, and this year is no different.
On Monday, the Cougars showed it by heading into the Christmas break with an 83-70 non-conference win against a fine Edgewood team.
“It is (a very tough place to play),” Edgewood coach John Bowler said of Lake Catholic’s home gymnasium. “They’re a very good team. I give them a lot of credit. They have a lot of good athletes, they’re coached well and they play real good. They don’t have a lot of weak links.”
“We’re trying to play at a fast pace, so we’re trying to play as many guys as we can,” Lake Catholic coach Mark Chicone said. “And we’re probably a little deeper than we’ve been the last couple years.”
Lake Catholic (5-1) hit 10 3-pointers and turned the ball over just seven times — three after the first period — while forcing 24 miscues. The deep Cougars had six players who scored nine points or more, led by Justin Robinson’s 22.
“Our turnovers killed us,” Bowler said. “And that’s something that’s been plaguing us all year long. Even when we’re not pressured, we’re still getting turnovers. And that’s not good. We lose mental focus. We’ve got to get mentally stronger.”
Lake Catholic got off to a fine start, and built an advantage of as many as 21 points in the first half. The Warriors (4-3), who canned eight treys themselves, scratched and clawed behind Connor McLaughlin (20 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists), Eli Kalil (10 of his 20 points in the third quarter) and Matt Fitchet (8 of his 11 points in the fourth period despite fouling out with 1:53 left, 7 boards). And, Joey Zappitelli , who put in 6 of his 9 points in an 8-0 stretch that cut it to 53-38 in the third quarter, just after the Cougars had run off 7-straight. However, Lake Catholic was able to keep its distance, and the final margin was as close as Edgewood could get.
“It’s over the holidays and we’ve been drilled with the flu bug — those kinds of nagging things,” Chicone said. “So to get off to the good start was kind of important for us.”
Brett Nalepa had 14 points and 7 rebounds, Conor Fitzgerald scored all 12 of his points before the break and added 7 assists and 6 steals, Zavier Powers tallied 11 points, Ben Meola registered 9 points, 8 caroms and 4 assists and Tommy Grosel put in 9 points for the Cougars.
“(Seven turnovers) is not very many,” Bowler said. “And we did try to pressure the ball too, and they still handled our pressure real well.”
“That’s a good sign for us, because turnovers have been a problem,” Chicone said. “We’ve been averaging about 15-20 a game.
Anthony Monda grabbed eight rebounds for the Warriors. However, Edgewood missed several shots from close range.
“I think we had four or five missed layups and things that we normally would make,” Bowler said. “I think we were a little bit in awe of these guys. They’re where we want to be. It’s a good program, and they’ve got a lot of nice wins.
“To lose by 13 points — I really don’t have a lot of moral wins and moral accomplishments, but I think this is one of those games that was a good gauge for us, to see where we’re at and see where we’ve got to be. We know where we’ve got to be now. They’re setting the standard in (our) district (in Division II).”
Goldman is a freelance writer from South Euclid.