BARBERTON — After the final buzzer sounded Friday, everyone’s favorite wild child, Pete Gmitric, tensed his body and clapped his hands as hard as he could. The seven other rotational players simply smiled — no high fives, no hugs, no storming the court, no nothing.
The most chilled-out, low-key and, to be frank, uneventful league championship celebration in Medina County history was brought to you by the Highland boys basketball team, which felt no need to step outside its comfort zone of being a quiet, mature and hard-working collection of 16-, 17- and 18-year-olds.
That’s not to say the Hornets didn’t appreciate the accomplishment of beating Barberton 71-59 to share the Suburban League American Conference crown with Copley and Revere. After all, it was only the eighth league title in school history (1953, ’54, ’56, ’98, ’99, ’05, ’14).
“It’s awesome, you know?” small forward Collin Rittman said. “All the hard work we put in even before practice started, the workouts individually, shooting around all the time before the season started — all in preparation for this — it paid off. Not only was it our expectation, it was our goal to come out and win the championship.
“The past couple years, I don’t even think there’s been a tie. It’s been a solo winner, right? To have like four teams — and even for a little bit Barberton — right there (all season), that’s crazy. I’ve never seen that before.”
Highland (14-8, 9-3) recorded arguably its most well-rounded win of the season, as four starters reached double figures. Rittman unsurprisingly led all Hornets scorers with 20 points, but his career-high 15 rebounds and defense that limited 16.3-point scorer Jordan Soyars to two points through three quarters were just as pivotal.
The most notable role-player performances came from power forward Ryan Frederick and point guard Jake Rogers. Frederick, a 5.5-point scorer coming in, pumped in 14 points and held 6-foot-5, 19-point scorer Jordan Greynolds to a season-low two, while Rogers, who had a mere 12 points over the previous six games, added 10 and drilled his fifth career 3-pointer.
“Just put your mind to it,” Frederick said of guarding Greynolds. “I usually guard the best player. That’s what I like to do. I like to hunt them down, and Coach (Adam Cestaro) prepared me for it.”
Center Landon Mazzocco (10 points, 5 rebounds), shooting guard Jarrett Smith (8, 2 assists), Gmitric (6) and backup center Ryan Acks (2) also scored when the game was still in doubt. The night was sentimental for Smith, whose oldest brother, Zach, was the backup point guard for the 2005 SL championship team.
With both teams pushing tempo and the Hornets having problems contending with physical left-handed point guard Zane Ries (21 points), the score was only 47-41 when Rittman was fouled by Greynolds on a drive to the rim with 2:03 remaining in the third quarter.
Things then got really weird really quickly.
Greynolds had picked up his fourth foul and was most certainly headed to the bench but was quickly assessed a technical foul and subsequently disqualified. As Rittman waited on the foul line, Greynolds’ father and coach, Jack Greynolds Jr., was T’d, giving Highland six free throws and the ball.
Rittman made the bizarre sequence weirder by missing the first three attempts but connected on the final three. Gmitric then drove baseline, elevated under the rim and kicked to Frederick for a nothing-but-net 3-pointer, and Highland led 53-41 after to a 6-0 run that took 17 seconds.
Jack Greynolds basically punted minutes later, yanking his starters midway through the fourth quarter despite the score still being reasonably in doubt.
“I’ve played a lot of basketball over the years — AAU, travel leagues — and I’ve never shot that many free throws in a row,” said Rittman, who moved into ninth place in county history with 1,219 points. “I tried not to think about it. I know I missed the first three and their fans were loving it and whatever, but I came back to sink the next three.”
The only question remaining was how the Hornets would celebrate.
“When we got to the locker room, everyone was going crazy,” Frederick said, “but on the court we don’t like to show off that much. Cool and collected.”
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Highland 71, Barberton 59
HIGHLAND 21 17 17 16 — 71
BARBERTON 19 12 10 18 — 59
Highland — Collin Rittman 6-7-20, Ryan Frederick 4-2-14, Landon Mazzocco 5-0-10, Jarrett Smith 2-3-8, Jake Rogers 4-1-10, Pete Gmitric 2-2-6, Alex Jaworski 0-1-1, Ryan Acks 1-0-2, Devin Myers 0-0-0, Jacob Maschke 0-0-0, Ryan Chema 0-0-0. TOTALS: 24-16-71.
Barberton — Jordan Soyars 2-2-6, Jordan Greynolds 1-0-2, Garrett Turnbaugh 4-0-8, Maxwell Littlejohn 2-0-6, Zane Ries 10-1-21, Jaret Barclay 1-0-2, Juan Franklin 2-1-5, Ziare Wright 2-2-7, Dee Smith 0-0-0, Macolm Boyd 1-0-2. TOTALS: 25-6-59.
3-point goals — Frederick 4, Rogers, Smith, Rittman, Littlejohn 2, Wright. Rebounds — Highland 33 (Rittman 15), Barberton 28 (Franklin 8). Assists — Highland 9 (Rogers 3), Barberton 6 (Soyars 3). Records — Highland (14-8, 9-3), Barberton (12-10, 7-5). Junior varsity — Highland 37, Barberton 29.