By ANGELO VELOTTA
For the Star Beacon
The Conneaut Spartans held on to win their final home game of the season on Tuesday night at Garcia Gymnasium 57-51 over the Cleveland James Rhodes Rams on senior night.
Those seniors came up big for the Spartans, as they combined to score 55 of Conneaut’s 57 points.
“It was huge,” Spartans coach Tim Tallbacka said. “I always try to honor our seniors and we play to win basketball games.”
The game got close for Conneaut, which wasn’t unfamiliar territory for Tallbacka’s group. With only 4:35 seconds left in the fourth, the Spartans clung to a 49-45 over the visiting Rams.
Rhodes upped their defensive pressure again and forced Conneaut into a turnover on seven of eight possessions as the Rams climbed back into the game after being down as much as 47-37.
With 3:08 left in the fourth quarter the Rams trailed, 51-48.
A costly turnover by Rhodes (7-14) with 1:40 left in the game, and a continued good effort defensively by them to get the turnovers but not being able to score off of them in transition proved to be too much for the Rams.
Conneaut (7-14) closed the game out by hitting clutch free throws over the final eight minutes
“Made free throws in the fourth quarter (were important),” Tallbacka said. “I really think it comes down to free throws.
“(We) overcame the turnovers.”
Senior Michael Mirando had a big game with 13 points, including two huge 3s.
“Finally able to knock ‘em down, tonight it was clicking,” Mirando said.
“Mike Mirando played best offensive game of the year,” Tallbacka said.
Fellow senior Christian Williams also contributed with 15 points, including three 3s, and 6-8 free throw shooting, making 5-6 later in the fourth quarter.
“Huge, we’ve given up a lotta runs, to hit shots like that was huge,” Williams said. “Definitely huge, everyone stepped up (for) free throws.”
Senior Bud Ritari also added 13 points, including going 5-7 from the free throw line.
Conneaut led in the close first quarter 12-10, which ended with the Rams going on a 4-0 run. The Rams provided strong defensive pressure and fast play and athleticism, but Conneaut matched it with a continuing effort to make big plays at the right time.
Christian Williams connected on a 3 with about a minute left in the second quarter, helping Conneaut take a 28-22 lead at halftime.
Rhodes took the third quarter 22-19 to cut the deficit to 47-44.
“At halftime we talked about changing pressure, commit to (getting) turnovers,” Rhodes coach Louie Moore said. “(But) we didn’t turn it into points.”
James Douglas led the way for Rhodes with a game-high 20 points.
“They’ve been a strong program for years,” Tallbacka said of the Rams. “We persevered, the kids have made great effort and made stops on D.”
“This is one we will remember for rest of our lives,” Mirando added.
Velotta is a freelance writer from Concord.