By RICH KELLY
For the Star Beacon
ASHTABULA TOWNSHIP —
It just wasn’t supposed to end like this for the Edgewood Warriors.
In playing a monstrous schedule and beating every Ashtabula County team it tangled with, coach John Bowler’s team took on all challengers and came out on top, most of the time.
The Warriors met up with a Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin team Saturday in a Division II sectional championship game that had a decided height advantage and cruised to a 62-49 win.
Buoyed the the presence of John Cirillo, who did not play when the teams met earlier in the season, the Lions used a 14-3 run over the last 6:15 of the second quarter to open a double-digit lead on Edgewood and and never looked back, posting a 62-49 win.
The Warriors (13-9) are not size challenged, but they came up against a NDCL team that began with 6-foot-10 sophomore Mark Kostelac and included 6-4 senior Cirillo and then had 6-3 Michael Shubert and 6-3 Brendan Leininger coming off the bench.
Following a Warrior timeout with 6:15 left before halftime, Aaron Hammer hit a short jumper from inside the lane, Cirillo hit a long 3-pointer and then a pair of free throws, Kostelac tossed in a short hook shot, Rashad Williams split a pair of free throws, Aidan Mlachak scored a basket and Cirillo put back a teammate’s miss while all the Warriors could muster was a conventional 3-point play from Eli Kalil, and the Lions had momentum and a 31-16 lead.
“We just gave up way too many baskets in the first half,” Edgewood coach John Bowler said. “Add in the fact that we couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, we just never got into a groove shooting the ball, and you basically, have the difference. I think we played much better in the second half, but we gave them too big a lead.”
“Our objective tonight was to speed up the game as much as we could, and the kids did a nice job in the first half,” NDCL coach Chris Poulos said. “We didn’t do as good a job of it in the second half, and you have to credit Edgewood for taking us out of that mode much of that time. They hit a couple early shots in the third period, so we just had to tighten things up a bit.
“The first time we played them (a Warrior win), we didn’t have John (Cirillo), and his length and size made a big difference for us tonight. For a guy 6-4, he’s got long arms and looks like a stick, but he is tough and makes plays for us from all over the floor. I think he’ll be playing for some college next season.”
Cirillo sparked the Lions (12-11) with 14 first half points on his way to 21 for the game, and he also came up big on defense.
“I like to challenge John with guarding the other team’s best scorer,” Poulos said. “We knew what Edgewood could do, but our defensive direction is to put pressure on the ball as much as we can. We felt we had an edge in quickness at the guard position today, so we tried to keep them from getting the ball inside. It alterred some shots for us, and that ball pressure was very important.”
Cirillo was the only Lion with more than 9 points, but 9 players scored as Poulos also was able to bring in some height from his bench.
The Lions lead ballooned to as much as 19 points, at 41-22, midway through the third period after Kalil and Matt Fitchet scored to lead off the quarter.
Edgewood fought back again to come to within 11, at 58-47, on a pair of Kalil free throws with 2:42 left, but the Warriors never hit a hot streak like they have much of the season.
“I’m just so proud of these kids,” Bowler said. “We really beefed up our schedule and the kids made a lot of comebacks when they had to. It was a fun season, and our kids showed some great character. They created some great memories.
“We’ve got some good talent coming back, too, so I’m really happy with our season.”
Connor McLaughlin finished his season and career with 19 points and Kalil added 13 and Fitchet battled the big boys for NDCL for 9 points before fouling out with 5:25 left to play.
Kelly is a freelance writer from Jefferson.