WADSWORTH — No one even bothered to beat around the bush Tuesday, because a 66-58 non-league rivalry win at Highland was an encapsulation of the Wadsworth boys basketball team’s season.
The Grizzlies were awesome for 2½ quarters. Then they took a nap. Then they woke up as if someone had thrown water on their faces. Then they smiled like kids who didn’t get caught with their hands in the cookie jar.
Somehow Wadsworth managed to end the game on a 12-4 run after blowing an 18-point second-half lead so quickly its players didn’t fully comprehend what had happened.
“We played really well in the first half — we were all hyped and everything — and we had just a four-minute stretch things didn’t go our way,” guard Carson Risher said. “But we finished strong at the end.”
Hitting eight of its first 12 3-point attempts and running the offense through big men Beau Casey (10 points, 8 rebounds) and Reid Black (8, 6, 3 assists) to take advantage of a two-quarter suspension to Highland second-leading scorer Landon Mazzocco (violation of team rules), the Grizzlies were on the verge of a 20-point lead in the third quarter.
Instead of paying attention on cruise control, however, Wadsworth kept driving at high speed and ignored coach Mike Schmeltzer Jr.’s pleas to slow down. Rushed shots and turnovers allowed Hornets star Collin Rittman (24 points) to get hot, and the score was 46-36 after three quarters.
More turnovers fueled a lightning-fast 7-1 Highland run that got the score to 47-43 on a steal/three-point play by Mazzocco (8 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals) with 5:54 to play. The Grizzlies finally took their time on offense, but it was too late to bother with the strategy and the Hornets (13-8) tied the game at 54 on Rittman free throws with 2:33 remaining.
Luckily for Wadsworth, a putback by the 5-foot-11 Risher (10 points, 5 rebounds, 0 turnovers) put the Grizzlies ahead for good. Highland then went missed shot, turnover, turnover and Wadsworth capitalized with a Black layup and four straight free throws by Jake Justice (10 points, 3 assists), who did not start for the first time since Feb. 24, 2016, to all but seal victory.
“Going into the fourth quarter I thought we were doing pretty well, then all of a sudden we’re only up five,” Casey said. “Then it hit us and we started to focus more.”
The Mazzocco-less Hornets couldn’t handle Wadsworth in the first half. Casey had eight points and four boards as the Grizzlies went up 21-11 after a quarter, while Tony Hewitt (15 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists) finished the half with five points, four boards and two dimes as the lead reached 34-23.
Highland contributed by shooting 9-for-28, as Mazzocco’s passing from the high post is a big part of the offense. Rittman had 10 first-half points and senior Jacob Maschke scored his first career points on a 3-pointer, while Jarrett Smith was a major factor in the comeback with nine fourth-quarter points.
“We looked out of sorts a little bit,” coach Adam Cestaro said. “We didn’t grab the loose balls that we needed to. Call it what you will.”
“I didn’t even realize (Mazzocco) was out until he came in in the second half,” Casey said. “I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, I forget he wasn’t playing.’ We just established it early in the post and we kicked out and got some good, open threes because of that.”
While the Hornets’ signature never-say-die attitude was admirable, the Grizzlies felt their poor play down the stretch was the more critical factor, but they’ll take any wins they can get at this point and quietly have a 6-2 record since being pounded by Suburban League National Conference leader Stow on Jan. 26.
“We had some adversity we had to overcome,” Casey said. “In the final few minutes, we made free throws (8-of-8) and got it done.”
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wadsworth 66, Highland 58
WADSWORTH 21 13 12 20 — 66
HIGHLAND 11 12 13 22 — 58
Wadsworth — Tony Hewitt 5-2-15, Jack Simmons 3-0-7, Reid Black 3-2-8, Carson Risher 4-0-10, Christian Szalay 1-3-6, Jake Justice 2-4-10, Mitchell Blackburn 0-0-0, Beau Casey 4-2-10. TOTALS: 22-13-66.
Highland — Collin Rittman 8-8-24, Jacob Maschke 1-0-3, Ryan Acks 1-0-2, Pete Gmitric 2-1-6, Jarrett Smith 3-4-11, Ryan Frederick 0-0-0, Jake Rogers 1-0-2, Alex Jaworski 0-0-0, Bryce Profitt 0-0-0, Ryan Chema 1-0-2, Landon Mazzocco 3-2-8. TOTALS: 20-15-58.
3-point goals — Hewitt 3, Justice 2, Risher 2, Szalay, Simmons, Smith, Gmitric, Maschke. Rebounds — Wadsworth 38 (Hewitt, Casey 8), Highland 27 (Frederick 7). Assists — Wadsworth 14 (Szalay, Justice, Black 3), Highland 9 (Smith 4). Records — Wadsworth (12-9), Wadsworth (13-8). Junior varsity — Highland 37, Wadsworth 34.