By RICH KELLY
For the Star Beacon
The Conneaut Spartans still are on the list of teams that have not garnered a win so far this season. The rapid improvement they have shown, especially this week against a rugged and quick John Adams team on Thursday night and the Madison Blue Streaks on Saturday night at Garcia Gymnasium, is becoming more and more obvious, though. They came up short against the Blue Streaks by a score of 61-50, but it was a battle to the final horn in this non-conference tilt.
“I feel we’ve made major steps in the right direction this week,” Conneaut coach Tim Tallbacka said. “Our man to man defense has picked up, and tonight we played physically with intensity for the whole 32 minutes.”
That they did, but it took a 7-0 run midway through the third period for Madison (7-4, 3-3 in Premier Athletic Conference) to enable them to open any kind of lead as a smothering defense from Conneaut (0-6) kept the game close.
After Amen Gerics (11 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists) hit a 3-pointer to cut a Blue Streak lead to 30-28, Brett Monty split a pair of free throws and then scored on a putback, made the foul shot to go with it, and Stephan Ortiz (24 points, 12 rebounds) drained a trey, and the score was suddenly 37-28 with just under two minutes left in the third quarter, and Conneaut didn’t have enough firepower to come all the way back.
“Conneaut really came out and was more physical tonight,” Madison coach Pat Moran said. “It’s just a reflection of their coach. Coach Tallbacka always has his kids battling and playing tough defense, and they manhandled us in the first half tonight.”
That half ended at 28-25 in the Madison corner, and the run opened things up more, but it wasn’t easy.
“One thing I told the kids is that we are winning now, and we will have people ready to go at us,” Moran said. “I’m really proud of our kids. It isn’t easy to go on back to back road games and win. We beat Chardon last night, and tonight Conneaut was ready to play us from the start. We responded well to the challenge.”
Ortiz had strong numbers in points and rebounds, but tight work from Nick Blood, Amen Gerics, and any Spartans who battled inside made him earn each digit he got.
Madison’s leading story had his 24 points, but it came on 8-27 shooting. A 2-12 first half was no mirage.
“I was glad we didn’t have any dry spells with our effort tonight,” Spartans coach Tallbacka said. “I thought that holding them to just 12 points in the third period was pretty good, but then again, we only scored five. Coming in, we wanted to play good half court defense against them.
“We just aren’t sharp enough on offense, but this was a better game for us. We played John Adams tough, and again tonight we were tough. We’re not far off from starting to win games.”
Ortiz led the Blue Streaks with his 24 points, Monty added 12, and John Daulhausen added eight with a like number of rebounds.
Conneaut, which strives for good team basketball, got just that.
Michael Mirando led the way with 13 points that included eight in the fourth period. Gerics added 11, and Nick Blood, who dominated the backboards with his 14 rebounds, joined Christian Williams in scoring nine each.
The Spartans missed some high percentage shots that hurt, ran into that slow spot in the third quarter to fall back, then came back late in the game to make it close.
Sadly, close doesn’t show up in the win column, but with this kind of effort, that should change soon.
“Every team we’ve played so far has had a winning record,” Tallbacka said. “That makes it tough to get those wins, but we keep working on getting closer to it, and I feel good about this great group of unselfish kids.”
Kelly is a freelance writer from Jefferson.