GRANGER TWP. — A staunch defense helped the seventh-seeded Highland boys basketball team fend off an upset attempt by 10th-seeded Cuyahoga Falls, as Highland secured a 55-43 victory Wednesday in a Barberton Division I Sectional semifinal.
Cuyahoga Falls (6-17) went on a 13-4 run capped by a Noah Koehler 3-pointer that cut the Hornets’ lead to 44-41 with less than two minutes left in the third quarter. The Black Tigers followed the lead of senior power forward Dion Davis (12 points, 7 rebounds) and senior guard Paris Blackshear (10 points, 5 rebounds).
“Give Cuyahoga Falls a ton of credit. They came out playing super hard. They beat us to every loose ball,” Highland coach Adam Cestaro said. “I think the key was our pressure. We turned them over a few times and got a couple easy ones, and that wore them down over the course of the second half.”
Highland (15-8) responded by cranking up the defensive intensity. It countered with an 11-2 run over the final 9:25, forcing eight turnovers before the Black Tigers scored.
“I think we turned the pressure up on them, made them throw bad passes and got in their heads,” Highland junior point guard Jake Rogers said. “When they are down, speed them up and then they are going to make bad decisions.”
Rogers, who scored all of his 10 points in the second half, drained the final basket of the third quarter to give Highland a 46-41 lead. Senior forward Collin Rittman and Rogers traded shots as the Hornets went on a 7-0 run over the next 6ﾽ minutes.
“Teams want to come out and extend pressure on (Rogers), but he’s really good at the point and creating plays for himself and teammates,” Cestaro said. “So, we want teams to pressure because we know Jake’s going to blow by guys and create problems for the defense.”
Rittman finished with 11 points, including eight in the second half, while Ryan Frederick made four 3-pointers for 12 points, including a buzzer-beater in the first quarter.
The Black Tigers’ James Moore snapped the run on a layup with 1:25 remaining that shrunk Highland’s lead to 53-43.
The Hornets advanced to play at second-seeded Archbishop Hoban (19-3) on Saturday night. Cestaro was an assistant under Knights coach T.K.Griffith for five seasons before becoming the head coach at Highland, where he teaches history.
“T.K. Griffith is one of my best friends. (Some of) those guys were in my wedding, and we’ve known each other forever,” Cestaro said. “It’s going to be a good challenge. We’re familiar with them. We’re looking forward to going over there and giving them our best shot.”
Contact John Urchek at email@example.com.
Highland 55, Cuyahoga Falls 43
Barberton Division I Sectional Semifinal
CUYAHOGA FALLS 12 12 17 2 — 43
HIGHLAND 14 21 11 9 — 55
Cuyahoga Falls — Tyler Vassalotti 1-0-2, Dion Davis 6-0-12, Michael Hoedt 0-0-0, Paris Blackshear 4-0-10, Jack Wilcoxson 1-0-3, Dai Dai Brazile 0-0-0, James Moore 1-2-4, Tony Sondles 0-0-0, Anthony Nichols 1-0-3, Noah Koehler 3-0-9. TOTALS: 17-2-43.
Highland — Collin Rittman 4-3-11, Ryan Frederick 4-0-12, Landon Mazzocco 3-1-7, Jarrett Smith 2-0-5, Jake Rogers 4-2-10, Alex Jaworski 1-0-2, Peter Gmitric 0-2-2, Ryan Chema 3-0-6. TOTALS: 21-8-55.
3-point goals — Koehler 3, Blackshear 2, Nichols, Wilcoxson, Frederick 4, Smith. Rebounds — Cuyahoga Falls 31 (Vassalotti 8), Highland 19 (Rittman 4). Assists — Cuyahoga Falls 9 (Vassalotti 4), Highland 9 (Rogers 3). Records — Highland (15-8), Cuyahoga Falls (6-17).