ASHTABULA TOWNSHIP — Like a predator on the prowl, Jacob Zappitelli laid in the weeds and waited for his moment to pounce.
One day after a game-high 19 points in a win at Lakeside, the Edgewood junior entered the overtime period on Saturday night against Geneva with a mere four. Then, he took over and led his team to a hard-fought 71-66 non-conference victory.
Zappitelli commenced the scoring in the overtime period with two free throws and, after Geneva tied the game at 62 apiece, he proceeded to knock down two more and added a 3-pointer on top.
An Eagles layup closed the margin to two points, but then Zappitelli stepped up to the line again and turned his team’s two-point lead into a two-possession advantage.
Zappitelli scored 10 of his 14 points in the overtime period — three more than Geneva and his own teammates combined — and made 7 of 8 foul shots. His only miss occurred when his team already held a five-point advantage without enough time for a Geneva comeback.
“Just stay calm, it’s what you prepare for everyday in practice,” Zappitelli told himself when he stepped up to the line. “When the game comes, it’s nothing.”
When asked about his performance in the overtime period though, Zappitelli said he shouldn’t have been in position to come up clutch for his team. That’s because his team started the game on a 10-0 run and finished the first quarter with a 12-point lead.
Geneva’s poor first quarter prompted a simple message from head coach Shane Clugh. He told his team that if they want to be on the court, go out and show it.
His players responded.
Dakota Harvey opened up the second quarter with a 3-pointer and a putback to close the gap to seven points and Geneva got within five in the quarter, but Edgewood carried an eight-point lead into halftime.
Nick Stoltz stormed out of the halftime intermission like a man possessed. He recorded two early assists to start the new half, cleaned up an offensive rebound for two points, recovered for two more points after his own shot was blocked, then later hit a 3-pointer with a hand in his face.
Geneva got within two points in the quarter, but an ensuing 9-1 Edgewood run capped off by a Ricky Baldwin steal which led to an and-one layup, brought the deficit back to 10 points.
Leading by five toward the end of the fourth quarter, Edgewood’s Tye Rood blocked a layup, but his teammates were unable to capitalize on the loose ball.
Instead, Oscar Varckette picked it up and found Grant Mihalick for a three.
Following a defensive stop, Mihalick made his way to the foul line for two shots and tied the game up at 60 — the game’s first tie since tipoff.
The Eagles had a chance to win, too. They possessed the ball with 45 seconds left in the tie game and tried to hold it for the final shot, but couldn’t get an attempt up before the final buzzer sounded.
“We were trying to get the last shot there, so we did a good job of running our set, keeping the ball moving until eight or nine seconds left, and then (Stoltz) got it, but unfortunately we weren’t able to get off a good shot,” Clugh said. “(Edgewood) did a nice job of stringing him out all the way to the sideline and he didn’t have anything available.”
Despite such a close result, the two teams couldn’t have gotten to their destination any more differently.
Geneva used gritty defense and distance shooting. As a team, the Eagles made 10 3-pointers, including five from Mihalick, and collected 10 steals.
“Geneva played well, they played scrappy and they hustled,” Edgewood coach John Bowler said. “I think they out hustled us to be honest.”
Bowler’s team used its physicality to get to the foul line and outbound Geneva. After losing the battle on the boards in each of their past two games, the Warriors outrebounded Geneva 39-23.
They also made 25 of its 33 foul shots. Geneva only got to the line for 12 attempts and made six.
Baldwin led Edgewood with 21 points and 14 rebounds.
Kanicki scored 12 points, Rood had 11 and Aaron Anderson chipped in with 10.
Stoltz finished with 18 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and three steals.
“Nick’s just got to continue what he’s doing,” Clugh said. “He gives you everything that he can possibly give, he never lets up.”
After the game, Clugh used the first quarter as an opportunity to teach his young team that just suffered its third straight loss.
“If we played four quarters, instead of three quarters, that’s a different outcome,” Clugh told his team. “In a varsity basketball game, you can’t come out and lay down for one quarter. That one quarter is what makes a difference.”
The other locker room, understandably so, was much more optimistic.
“We have unbelievable potential,” Bowler said. “We can shoot the ball, we can rebound, we can do anything, it’s really up to the individuals on this team, how good we’re going to be and how hard we’re going to practice.”