By MIKE SHAFFER
For the Star Beacon
Thursday night’s Star-Beacon-Ed Batanian Senior Classic was Ashtabula County’s answer to the NBA All-star Game.
And while there may have been a few 360 alley-oop dunks that were left unfinished, the player and fans seemed to have just as much fun.
When the game was over thus bringing down the final curtain on the season, it was the Lions, coached by Edgewood’s John Bowler and Lakeside’s Jim Hood, that came out on top, 83-71.
The Tigers were led by Jefferson’s Steve French and Geneva’s Matt Vespa.
Any one of the four coaches however would be the first to tell you there wasn’t too much as far as the Xs and Os go for this one.
“I just told them shoot a lot of 3s and whoever was open to shoot it,” Bowler said. “It was really a lot of fun tonight, the kids really enjoyed themselves”.
The coach did admit though he was happy to come out on top.
“I like to win all the time, regardless of the situation,” he said with a laugh. “If I’m coaching, I want to win. I like to have fun and for the kids to have fun, but at the same time we’re here to win the game and that’s what we did.”
French and Vespa’s team may not have come out the victor, but that didn’t take any of the fun from the Tigers squad.
“This was a good time tonight,” French said. “We didn’t have a practice or anything like that, it was just great for the kids to come out and play together like this. It’s a great way for them to go out.”
Lakeside, Geneva and Edgewood had the most participation with each school dressing four players. In order to keep things even players from the same schools played for both teams, which made things even more fun and interesting. Just ask Lakeside’s Kyle Downs.
Downs, who captured Player of the Game for the Tigers teamed up with fellow Dragon Lorenz Sistrunk but found himself wearing a different jersey however from Tristan Bradley and Marcell Ballenger.
“It was really fun for us because we never get to play against each other competitively so it was fun to have fun with one another and goof off a little bit,” Downs said.
The Dragon finished the night with 14 points and 11 rebounds to take home Player of the Game honors.
Also taking home hardware was Edgewood’s Connor McLaughlin. The county Player of the Game, added to his resume by scoring 14 points to go with 9 boards, he had had a pair of steals and blocked 2 shots.
“I couldn’t be more proud of Connor,” Bowler said of his player. “Connor’s just a great player. He’s a good person that’s played for me for three years, he got Player of the Game of the County and now to get Player of the Game of the all-star game is just really nice”.
The 3-balls were flying early and often as the game started. The Tigers jumped out to a 10-0 lead to open the game with Downs and Sistrunk both nailing triples.
The Tigers however would rally back outscoring the Tigers 16-3 to finish the quarter.
The Tigers grabbed their first lead in the second quarter at 19-18 on a lay-in by McLaughlin. The Lions would answer back though with a couple of hoops from Downs to go with a 3-pointer from Conneaut’s Ryan Oatman.
Grand Valley’s Jake Vormelker nailed a three ball however to close the first half and give the Lions a 36-34 advantage at half-time.
Vormelker, the Mustang’s quarterback who signed a letter of intent to play football at Mount Union was wearing the Grand Valley uniform for the final time.
“Everybody at Grand Valley has been just great to me,” the future Purple Raider said. “This was a lot of fun tonight, and I just want to say thank to everyone at Grand Valley, my parents, coaches, teachers, everyone has been great to me.”
As the second half opened, the three balls kept flying, although not from the player you’d think to be shooting them.
Pymatuning Valley’ big man, Tim Baker swished 3 shots from beyond the arc to start the third quarter to get crowd cheering as well as laughing a bit. The Laker had to laugh himself.
“I thing during the season I attempted like 5 of those,” he said. “I missed everyone of them. But I knew if I got room they were going up. It was amazing feeling when they went in.”
Behind the hot shooting of the big fella the Lions stretched their lead to as much as 13 and would lead 70-59 at the end of the third quarter.
In the final 8 minutes, the Lions got up by as many as 16 on a hoop by Bradley. The Tigers would pull to within 11 but get no closer as the curtain came down on Ashtabula County basketball for the 2013-14 season.
Shaffer is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.