By VINCE PELUSO
CHAGRIN FALLS —
After a first half that saw them score just 18 points against a stingy Chagrin Falls defense, the Jefferson Falcons came soaring out of halftime in a Division II Sectional Championship on the road.
A Sage Cantini (12 points) triple followed by another Cantini layup and a James Jackson layup at 5:35 had the Tigers lead at just 26-25 as the fourth-seeded Falcons looked poised to pull of the upset of the No. 2 team in the district.
But, as it has all season, Chagrin Falls fought back and in the blink of an eye, pushed the lead back up to 9 at 34-25 as they went on claim the sectional crown, 50-35.
“Their zone caused some turnovers,” Jefferson coach Steve French said. “We had some bad passes, they got some easy run ups for layups and that hurt us.”
After Tigers coach David Bargar called timeout at 5:35 following Jefferson’s 7-0 run, Jack Karyo stopped the bleeding with a hoop to push the lead to 28-25.
Then, on the next three possessions a Sawyer McGuire steal and two more Karyo steals lead to wide-open layups giving the Tigers a 34-25 lead with 2:40 left in the third.
The steals were a result of Bargar’s switch to a 1-3-1 zone defense that left Jefferson’s offense stagnant.
“We figured with our 1-3-1, that’s something we’ve been able to use when we need (turnovers),” he said. “We thought a couple turnovers in a game like this, where it’s a 1-point game and it turned to a 9-point game real quick, it could be big for us.
“It was good to see, we did a nice job with that.”
Jefferson’s inability to put the ball in the basket was a problem throughout. The Falcons shot just 14 of 45 from the field.
“The shots just weren’t falling tonight and they’re shots we’ve hit all year,” French said. “We know this summer, we’ve got to get in the gym and get the shooter out and get some shots up.
“I think when you’re not making shots and you’re playing catchup it’s tough to get a real flow, 35 points that’s a little over half our average so the missed shots hurt.”
While Jefferson (15-9) was struggling to hit shots, Nate Diedrich was on fire from the outside.
With the Falcons locking up McGuire, the Chagrin Valley Conference Player of the Year, holding him to just 2 points, Diedrich took advantage.
He scored a game-high 19 points, including 5 triples.
The biggest of which came at 2:50 in the fourth period to push the Tigers’ lead to 13 and effectively end any Jefferson comeback hopes.
“Diedrich was on fire,” French admitted. “We knew McGuire was an excellent player and Lucas Hitchcock played excellent defense on him tonight, but Diedrich really hurt us. All the credit goes to him for making those shots.”
“These guys, Nate and Sawyer, have seen this all year, teams try to take one away and the other has a chance to make shots,” Bargar said. “It was good to see, he’s a good shooter, takes the ball to the basket, they did take Sawyer out of the game but Nate did a nice job scoring for us.”
Diedrich connected from beyond the arc twice in the first quarter to give Chagrin Falls a 13-10 lead after 1.
With starting forward Jack Karyo (12 points, all in the second half) picking up his second foul with 2:27 in the first quarter, Bargar had to go to his bench and it produced.
In building a 26-18 lead at the half, the Tigers got 11 first-half points from their reserves, led by James Sferra’s 8, which included 2 triples.
Additionally, Chagrin Falls (20-3) neutralized Jefferson’s ability to rebound.
The Falcons, who had only been outrebounded one other time this season, lost in that category, 30-27, on Saturday night.
“I think Chagrin is the scrappiest team we’ve played all year,” French said. “They’re tough they battle for every loose ball. Coach Bargar has done a great job with them, they’re very fundamental. We saw them in person and on tape and both times, they played tough teams and really beat them up on the glass.
“We knew coming in — it’s one thing to know and another thing to do it in person.”
Bargar said rebounding was an emphasis with his team coming into the game.
“Our guys are about the same size, they’re fundamentally sound boxing out,” he said. “We get in trouble with the real athletic teams, these guys are physical guys, so we were able to put bodies on them and I thought we did a pretty good job. That was one of the things we talked about, we had to keep them off the boards cuz they are a good rebounding team.”
While the season comes to a disappointing end for the Falcons, and its three seniors — David Chase (6 points, 7 rebounds), Joe Jackson and Wyatt Weyhmeller — French said his team, which won more than 14 games for the first time since the 1978-79 Falcons went 16-5, had nothing of which to be ashamed.
“(15 wins) is a good number, we’re happy about that,“ he said. “I’m very proud of Joe, he came in every day and fought and battled. Wyatt was a real help on the glass. And David, everybody knows him. Everywhere you go its, ‘Hey, how’s the big guy doing?’ He’s really gotten better, if you saw him from his freshman year to now, he’s really, really improved.
“We’re young, though. We only start one senior, so we’re excited for what’s ahead.”