By VINCE PELUSO — email@example.com
When Conneaut’s Michael Mirando hit a bucket in the closing seconds of the second quarter to put his Spartans up 40-27 over rival Edgewood, the worst thing that could happen for Conneaut occurred — haltime.
In what felt like a blink of an eye, the Warriors regrouped and came out of the intermission roaring, going on a 15-0 run to start the third period and turn the 13-point deficit into a two-point lead, eventually pulling out a 61-56 non-conference win.
“That was the game,” Conneaut coach Tim Tallbacka said of the run. “They come out and they hit a bucket, we missed a shot, they hit a bucket and it was down to nine and I think we got tight. I think our guys started pressing a little bit. They erased that lead in a hurry.”
Eight points from Louie Wisnyai (4 points) and Connor McLaughlin (9 points) combined kicked off the run then Andrew Konczal scored five-straight, including a three-point play that tied the game at 40 with 4:43 remaining in the third, before a Dylan McCaleb bucket gave the Warriors their first lead since a McLaughlin 3 to start the game put Edgewood up, 3-0.
Warriors coach John Bowler said he remained calm despite the halftime deficit, feeling confident his team would be capable of overcoming it.
“Surprisingly, I was very calm,” he said with a laugh. “I sat the kids down and I just told them we’ve come back from bigger deficits. I told them if we do what we need to do, we’ll be fine. They (Conneaut) played that whole first half on emotion and I knew they would be pumped up and psyched and they played really well. They were into it. We came in a little flat.
“I knew in that second half, if we do what we normally do and play defense and make our shots, we’ll be fine.”
While Tallbacka did everything he could to prevent the run, calling two timeouts over that stretch, his team didn’t fold after it. A Joey Borgerding (5 point) triple to beat the buzzer actually gave the Spartans a 3-point lead at 47-44 going into the final period.
A Nick Blood bucket stretched the Conneaut lead to 51-46 in the early goings of the fourth, but that’s when Konczal began to take over again.
The Edgewood senior rattled off six-straight points to give his team a 52-51 lead.
Konczal was in attack mode throughout the game, going to the line 17 times, connecting on 15 of those attempts, in scoring a game-high 27 points.
While shooting into the Conneaut student section, Konczal went 7 for 7 from the line in the second half.
“I have to give all my credit to (assistant coach) Jay Bowler for constantly working with me on my free throws at practice and telling me it’s going to be a big part of my game this year,” he said. “We definitely needed to get inside. When we’re not hitting our outside shots we need to get it inside so we can open things up for Dylan and Connor.”
Borgerding ended Konczal’s run with a bucket to put the Spartans (5-12) up 53-52 before a pair of Matt Fitchet (8 points) free throws put Edgewood back on top with 2:10 remaining. Conneaut’s Christian Williams tied the game at 54 on the ensuing possession by splitting a pair of free throws, but from that point on it was all Edgewood as the Warriors closed out the game on a 7-2 run.
“Foul shots have helped us win a lot of games this year,” Bowler said. “We don’t stress it a lot in practice. I bet we don’t shoot more than 20-25 every night. It’s just a mind set. They go to the line and I try to make them be relaxed and we have a good time and not be so tense and it’s been working.”
Konczal’s performance saw him reprise a role that was more synonymous with what he did last year when he was filling up the box score with points, not rebounds.
But, to him, the end result is about winning, not his individual statistics.
“It feels good, but it’s not all about being in the stat sheet, it’s just about winning games,” the area’s leading rebounder at 11.4 per game said. “We play as a team, if I need to score, I score. If I need to do other things, I just play the role on any given night that I need to play.”
Tallbacka’s team came out of the game firing on all cylinders in front of a packed and enthusiastic home crowd as he saw his Spartans drop 40 points in the first half.
But, in the second half, shots weren’t falling as frequently and the Warriors made Conneaut pay at the charity stripe.
“They shot 30 free throws to our 16 so apparently they were more aggressive than us,” he said. “They had two baskets in the whole fourth quarter, but they made 13 free throws in the fourth quarter. Normally you hold a team to two baskets in the fourth quarter you’re going to be successful.
“But I’m proud of my guys, they played hard.”
The win caps a big week for Bowler’s group, which also beat Riverside on Tuesday, giving the Warriors (13-6) 13 wins heading into Sunday’s Division II sectional tournament draw.
But that’s the big picture, in the moment, Bowler said Friday night was why he coaches high school basketball.
“This is what it’s all about,” he said. “I told the kids, even at halftime, this is what high school basketball is all about. After the game, I told them this is what I came out of retirement for. I had so much fun tonight and it’s such a blast, win or lose. I’m not just saying that because we won. The crowd’s there, both sides going back and forth, the kids are emotional and everything.
“And I’ll tell you what, Conneaut played hard. Tim Tallbacka had those guys ready to play hard. I’m not looking forward to it if I have to play them in the tournament because they’re playing good right now.”