By RICH KELLY
For the Star Beacon
Three is a big number in the sports world.
In football, a 3-point kick can win a game with no time on the clock. In hockey, it takes 3 periods to complete a game and a player can win it for his team with a hat trick. In baseball, each team gets 3 outs per inning as needed and the late Earl Weaver, manager of the Baltimore Orioles for many years, lived and died with 3-run homers.
Basketball has its own version of 3s. Over the past few seasons at the high school level, the 3-point shot has won and lost many games. The 3-pointer becomes a different animal, though, at all-star games.
A pair of athletes, playing in their last high school games, came to the fore in closing their careers to win the 3-point shooting contest at the Star Beacon-Ed Batanian Senior Classic on Tuesdya night in Jefferson’s Falcon Gymnasium.
Natalie Bertolasio of Conneaut came close to a school record for a season with her 39 treys this year for coach Tony Pasanen’s squad and that skill set paid off for her as she dispatched Pymatuning Valley mainstay Geena Gabriel in the final for girls by a 5-2 score.
“It’s just crazy to think my high school career is over already,” Bertolasio said. “I hope to maybe look into playing college basketball at Cleveland State, maybe in my sophomore year after I get settled in. I’m still not sure about that, but I’d like to maybe try. We had a good season this year at Conneaut. We played some good defense, and that is good for confidence.”
Her long-range shooting boosted the Spartans.
“Natalie did very well for us,” he said. “She was hurt as a sophomore, so last season was basically her sophomore year, and now, as a senior, she played just as a junior would. She put in the time to improve, and her 39 long-range buckets this year helped our team a lot.”
Bertolasio reached the final round by dropping Taylor Bland of Madison, 8-4. Bertolasio split her first 4 shots, then torched the nets for 6 in a row, mostly from the top of the key.
Gabriel had reached the title battle by knocking off Gia Saturday of Edgewood, 6-1. Both had proven their abilities to hit those 3-pointers, but it wasn’t Saturday’s night.
Then the guys got into the act at halftime of their game, and known bombardiers went at it.
An unlikely winner came to the front, however, in the person of Pymatuning Valley role player Corey Mercer.
After Jake Vormelker of Grand Valley and Ashtabula County Player of the Year Connor McLaughlin of Edgewood went at it, with Vormelker winning in extra shots, 3-2, after they each hit 4 in their first round of 10, Mercer and Kyle Downs of Lakeside battled. Mercer came out on top by a 5-4 count.
Mercer and Vormelker, a deadly shooter from as far as 25 feet out, battled to a 5-5 tie after 10 shots.
Mercer gained the upper hand in the extra session, claiming the title with a 4-1 victory.
“We’re not seeing that much defense in the game tonight,” Mercer said. “This is my last chance to play, so it is really nice that I was able to get hot and win this contest.”
His coach in the game, first year Jefferson coach Steve French, has an unusual take on Mercer’s feat.
“I got to coach Corey back in sixth grade at PV,” French said. “He puts in an awful lot of time in the gym working on his game to improve. You’d always find him at open gyms, so it’s really nice to see him win this contest.”
Kelly is a freelance writer from Jefferson.