SOUTH AMHERST— With the big dog missing from the middle, the Firelands boys basketball team knew Black River’s bite would be short a few teeth.
Because of it, the Falcons eked out a 64-63 Patriot Athletic Conference Stars Division win that might have been flipped had the Pirates had Jonathan Herb in the lineup.
The 6-foot-9 Herb was sick and Firelands (4-11, 4-7) took advantage, capping an incredible back-and-forth contest when Nick Denney (14 points, 6 rebounds, 9 assists) hit the game-winner with 7.0 seconds remaining.
With an explosive first step and no one able to slide over and alter his shot, the 6-1 guard went right and hit the layup.
“It hurt us a lot,” said 5-10 Black River junior Brennan Scheck, who had to move over to the middle to take Herb’s spot. “Usually I’m not a post defender. Usually big Jon is down there. I love that guy to death. He’s a great defender.
“Not having him, honestly, killed us. He deflects shots. He blocks shots for us. He grabs rebounds for us. Going against two guys that are 6-5 and only having one 6-5 guy ourselves (River Wheeler), that was the deciding factor in our game.”
It showed in more than the last shot, as 6-7 Richard Maggard had a field day against the Pirates (2-15, 1-11). The senior scored a career-high 30 points and added 10 rebounds.
Ten of those 30 came in a fourth quarter that saw two ties and two lead changes in the final 3:35.
“Having (Herb) out was huge,” Maggard said. “He’s a guy that takes up the entire paint and disrupts our scoring. Last game (a 50-36 win by Firelands), that’s all he did. This time, we could drive to the basket and that helped a whole lot.”
Despite all that, Black River had a chance to win, but a 3-pointer from just behind the time line by Devon McLean missed.
The Pirates turned a nine-point deficit at intermission into a four-point lead with 1:43 left behind nice games from Scheck (19 points, 8 rebounds), Caleb Poldruhi (19 points, 4 assists) and Wheeler (12 points, 8 rebounds).
But a 3-pointer from Austin Urban, two turnovers and Denney’s layup did in Black River down the stretch.
The game might have been a Firelands blowout without second-half adjustments that helped Black River clog the paint.
“We’re learning how to play with a little more purpose, with a little more intensity,” Pirates coach Randy Endsley II said. “We’re trying to find what works best. They’ve been working their butts off in practice. We made more threes tonight (10) than we’ve made all year. We’re really getting better.”
In celebration of the merger between Firelands and South Amherst, the game was played in South Amherst’s old high school gymnasium, which is now South Amherst Middle School. The Falcons wore green South Amherst Cavaliers warmups complete with the old logo, which still adorns the wall of the gym.
l The Firelands junior varsity won 49-39. Jacob Reinhardt, Dillon Bricker and Jay Chidsey paced Black River with eight points apiece.
Contact Brad Bournival at email@example.com.
Black River 63
BLACK RIVER 17 12 20 14 — 63
FIRELANDS 17 21 9 17 — 64
Black River — Caleb Poldruhi 6-4-19, River Wheeler 5-0-12, Brennan Scheck 7-1-19, Zach Hawley 1-6-8, Devon McLean 1-0-3, Garrett Hord 1-0-2, Caleb Simonson 0-0-0. TOTALS: 21-11-63.
Firelands — Nick Denney 6-2-14, Aaron Myers 0-0-0, Jacob Schmitz 4-0-8, Richard Maggard 14-2-30, Austin Urban 2-0-5, Casey Kelley 0-0-0, Alex Angle 2-1-5, Eric Jones 1-0-2. TOTALS: 29-5-64.
3-point goals — Scheck 4, Poldruhi 3, Wheeler 2, McClean, Urban. Rebounds — Black River 25 (Wheeler, Scheck 8), Firelands 32 (Maggard 10). Assists — Black River 17 (Hawley 5), Firelands 19 (Denney 9). Records — Black River (2-15, 1-11), Firelands (4-11, 4-7). Junior varsity — Firelands 49, Black River 39.