By VINCE PELUSO — firstname.lastname@example.org
In front of an emotionally charged crowd on senior night, the Jefferson Falcons overcome a seven-point halftime deficit to best rival Edgewood, 60-52, Friday night at Falcon Gym.
The Warriors controlled the first three quarters of play, but Jefferson started chipping away at the lead late in the third when Troy Bloom was fouled by Dylan McCaleb with the game tied at 39 with 2.3 seconds remaining. The foul was McCaleb’s fourth then he picked up a technical to foul out.
The foul and ensuing technical loomed large as Bloom hit all four from the line to put Jefferson (7-15) up 43-39 heading into the fourth, its first lead since, 3-2.
“I’m really happy for our three seniors (Bloom, Jacob Hamilton, Brett Powers) and whole team,” Jefferson coach Jeremy Huber said. “It’s been a tough year, but it’s nice to get a win that last game.”
Defense dominated the final period as neither team hit a shot from the field until a Lucas Hitchcock bucket put Jefferson up 45-42 with 3:32 remaining.
Hamilton connected on three of four free throws on consecutive possessions to put Jefferson up 52-45 with 1:08 remaining.
But the Warriors (15-7) didn’t go away. Matt Fitchet hit a pair of free throws then Joey Zappittelli found an open Louie Wisnyai for a 3, Edgewood’s first field goal of the period, with 40.9 seconds left and Jefferson up, 52-50.
“We couldn’t get any flow at all, nobody could get any flow,” Warriors coach John Bowler said. “We had some good looks we just didn’t make them. I think Jefferson picked up their defense a little bit. They played real hard. They play well on their home court.”
Wisnyai’s 3 gave the Warriors new life, but Hamilton hit a pair of free throws to push the lead back to four.
Then something that hadn’t happened to Edgewood all season occurred — missed opportunities at the foul line.
The Warriors were just two of seven from the charity stripe in the final 30 seconds of the game.
“We’re usually a really good foul shooting and we missed some tonight,” Bowler said. “Part of it is our guys were frustrated with the refs, I know I was frustrated with them. I think they let it get to them a little bit and they let the emotion of the game get to them.”
Officials played a factor in the outcome. After a pair of McLaughlin free throws cut the deficit down to 56-52, in a rare move, official Tom Barzak attempted to ejected two sections of fans then whistled Bowler and Fitchet for technical fouls, sending Jefferson to the line for six free throws, four of which it made, to close the game out at 60-52.
“I’ve never been part of a game where one official called six technicals,” Bowler said.
All told, 48 fouls were called in the game sending Jefferson to the line 40 times and Edgewood 23.
While Huber had seen many of his team’s shots rattle out during the season, he was happy to see them fall on Friday.
“We’ve had a lot of shots go in and out this year,” he said. “It’s nice to see Jacob have some offense here at the end of the year. Jacob has become a real leader on the floor, he’s developed into a true point guard. Troy’s carried us all year with his 3s, now he’s going to the basket he’s really become a complete player.”
Bloom played a big factor in the win, leading Jefferson with 19 points while Hamilton went five of seven from the line in the fourth period to score 11.
But, the defensive end was where the game turned for the Falcons.
Edgewood’s Andrew Konczal scored 19 in the first half, but was limited to just five (all free throws) in the second half to score a game-high 24 points.
“He was killing us, we made sure we knew where he was,” Huber said. “He’s a good player, Connor McLaughlin is as well. There’s two players that can score at any time, we wanted to know where they were at all times on the floor.
“They (Edgewood) were probably missing some shots down the stretch, too. We work on defense every day. (The guys) stepped up and played some good defense and did a good job.”
While no coach wants to end the season with a loss, Bowler didn’t think it was the worst time for a loss as his fifth-seeded team prepares for a Division II sectional championship game on Wednesday with Monday’s winner between ninth-seeded Harvey and sixth-seeded Warrensville.
“Actually, I think if a game could be good to lose, this could be a good game to lose,” he said. “We were getting a little overconfident, we were on a little winning streak. I think we were getting a little overconfident so it’s good to get our heads back on and work hard (today) in practice.”
The win for Huber’s group gives the 11th-seeded Falcons the momentum heading into a sectional semifinal showdown with 10th-seeded Conneaut on Monday.
“The kids aren’t going to quit, we’re 7-15, but that record is not indicative of how good we are and how hard we’ve worked,” he said. “(Monday) is another rivalry game. It’ll be a 50-50 battle. Whoever shows up and makes a couple shots will win that game. It’ll be a fun game for both teams.”