By STEVE GOLDMAN
For the Star Beacon
Both area teams were on the losing end in Friday’s Division I sectional championship action at Euclid. However, only one of the two squads came away disappointed with its performance. In the nightcap, it was the coach of the winning side that was disappointed.
In the opener, Madison, which had defeated South twice during the regular season and came in with a higher seed and better record than the Rebels, got into a deep first-half hole and couldn’t climb out in a 73-56 loss. Then, Lakeside, although it didn’t come close to winning the game, nevertheless showed that it could play with top-seeded Mentor in a 118-98 defeat.
The 11th-seeded Dragons, who end the season at 8-15, nevertheless exit with a positive feeling and, in the case of those who will return, hope for the future.
“When we started the year, we couldn’t score 43 points a game,” Lakeside coach Mark Taylor said. “We struggled offensively. You saw the development with these guys.”
It wasn’t that the Cardinals (19-5) didn’t get out to an early lead and widen it. They used an 11-0 run to gain an early 13-3 advantage and pushed it to 32-13 before Lorenz Sistrunk (8 points) hit a long three to end the first period. At the half, it was 67-44, and Mentor managed to hit the century mark before the end of the third quarter, when Brody Nelson (12 points) scored on a drive to make it 101-69.
However, Lakeside was able to run with Mentor, and its total of 98 points, a team season high and, according to one source, a defensive worst for the Cardinals this year, pretty much speaks for itself.
Senior Emonte Parks bowed out with 27 points and eight assists. Marcell Ballenger had 21 points and four blocked shots, Kyle Downs 20 points and four steals, Tristan Bradley five assists and Odero Ajamu three blocks.
“I couldn’t be more proud of these guys’ effort — their heart,” Taylor said. “Offensively we played with tempo, we moved the ball, good spacing, and I thought offensively we played in transition.”
In the other locker room, Mentor coach Bob Krizancic had a different point of view.
“The defense stunk,” he said. “We played one of the poorest defensive games I’ve ever coached.
“It starts with me — my fault. It was just a very, very very poor defensive effort all-around. Coaches, players, managers, whatever you want to call it — just a poor defensive effort. It wasn’t tough, it wasn’t aggressive.”
Krizancic related that the Dragons have good athletes, but that he was surprised by the fast pace that they played, which of course is the pace his own team prefers. Given that, one has to wonder what films of Lakeside he had seen, because that’s the way the Dragons like to play.
“They’ve always had athletes, and they do a lot of things well,” he said. “At this time of year, we talk about defense winning championships, and that definitely isn’t going to win it for us.”
Mentor was led in scoring by Jeff Foreman, who had 18 despite having to leave in the first minute of the second half with a head injury. Michael Gallagher had 17 points, Kent Berger 16 points, Brandon Fritts 15 points and Caleb Potter 13 points to give the Cardinals six players in double figures. Kade McClure (4 assists) and Kyle Hagey added eight points each, and Connner Krizancic four assists.
Each team made over half its field-goal attempts, with Mentor hitting 42 of its 79 (53.2 percent) to Lakeside’s 37 of 71 (52.1 percent). The Cardinals dominated the boards by a 53-32 count despite the fact their leader (Fritts) had six.
The Dragons nailed 11 3-pointers, three more than Mentor. But the Cardinals went to the line 15 more times than Lakeside (37-22), with 13 more converted (26-13).
“We’ve got a good group of young guys that are really the foundation of this program,” Taylor said. “I think the program is really in a good place.
“It’s tough stopping Mentor. They can beat you in so many ways. And they’re probably the most efficient team I’ve seen this season. They’re the No. 8 team in the state for a reason.”
With regard to the first game, it was the second straight time that South (12-12) beat a Premier Atrletic Conference opponent to which it had lost both times during the regular season. The ninth-seeded Rebels looked sharp, as they had turned the ball over just twice entering the final minute of the third quarter. After trailing 7-6 in the first period, they went on a 21-3 tear to grab a 27-10 second-period lead which they extended to 39-18 later in the frame.
To the surprise of no one, Madison coach Pat Moran fingered the poor start as the key.
“The first quarter was horrible,” he said. “I don’t know if it was jitters, or what, but you can’t start off missing as many shots as we did. We didn’t stick to some of our defensive game plan in that first half. When you spot a team that many points, it’s going to be tough to climb back.
Sixth-seeded Madison tried, and closed within eight at 52-44 early in the fourth quarter after a 7-0 spurt. But South answered with a seven-point stretch pf its own, and led by at least 11 the rest of the way.
The Blue Streaks (13-10) hit just 32.8 percent of their shots (19 of 58), including seven of 25 in the first half.
Kareem Hunt led the Rebels with 19 points and added a game-high 12 rebounds. Harry Chakirelis added 18 points, eight boards and eight assists, and Max Crozier also scored 18 points for South.
Stephon Ortiz and Brett Monty each finished their careers at Madison with 20-point performances, although Ortiz managed just four in the first half. Ortiz also had 11 rebounds and three blocked shots, and Monty seven caroms. Brandon Smith, another senior, added 10 points for the Blue Streaks.
“We actually won the second half,” Moran said. “The thing is, it’s tough to play catchup when you’re down that many. Our objective was to try to get it to single digits. But then (after we got within 8, we had) some turnovers and some bad decisions. It was not a time where you don’t want to play smart basketball.”
South had the upper hand on the boards, 46-35.
Goldman is a freelance writer from South Euclid.