GRANGER TWP. — The Highland boys basketball team added another chapter to a season of heartbreak Friday night.
Ahead most of the game, the Hornets crumbled late and fell 75-72 to Barberton in Suburban League American Conference action.
Highland (10-12, 6-6), which lost 63-60 to the Magics (9-13, 5-7) earlier this season when Jamair Blackmon hit a 3-pointer with 2.6 seconds left, is now 4-9 in games decided by six points or fewer.
“It’s a killer,” said Hornets small forward Bryce Profitt, who had 27 points on 9-for-13 shooting and 9-for-10 at the line, 15 rebounds and four assists. “The energy in the locker room right now isn’t the best. It’s a heartbreaker. We worked so hard in those games and couldn’t pull them out.”
Highland led 70-66 in this one and was trying to take away Barberton guards Blackmon (25 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists) and Jordan Soyars (29, 5, 2) near the one-minute mark, only to have Magics center Ethen Elliot (15 points, 9 rebounds) drain a 3-pointer from the corner.
“He knocked it down, but you’ve got to take away the kid who scores 26 a game first,” Hornets coach Adam Cestaro said of Soyars, who entered averaging 26.9 points and had 44 his last time out. “If we were going to give one up, that’s the one we wanted to give up.”
Compounding Highland’s problems, it threw away the subsequent inbounds pass and Barberton power forward Santino Fox (2 points, 11 rebounds) was fouled with 56.3 seconds to go. Fox missed both free throws but somehow got the rebound, only to miss inside.
Profitt finally secured the loose ball in the key while flat on his stomach and alertly called timeout with 51.1 ticks on the clock, but the Hornets turned the ball over at midcourt, with Blackmon going in for any easy layup to put the Magics up 71-70 with 34 seconds remaining.
Following a timeout, Highland’s Cole Tessena missed a 3-pointer and the Hornets were forced to foul, with Elliot putting Barberton up 73-70 with two free throws at the 25.9-second mark.
Tessena missed another three for Highland, but Profitt got the rebound, was fouled and made both free throws to make it 73-72 with 9.9 seconds left.
Soyars, who was 10-for-21 from the field and 9-for-12 at the line, hit two from the stripe with 5.8 seconds to go and, with the Hornets out of timeouts, Alex Jaworski (15 points) misfired on a 35-footer at the buzzer.
“We didn’t do as well on the defensive end as we should have,” Profitt said after Highland lost the fourth quarter 27-18. “We became lackadaisical and they took advantage.”
Highland led 19-14 after the first period and 39-29 late in the first half, but the Magics scored four points in the final 56.9 seconds to make it a six-point game at intermission.
The Hornets still led by six with just over two minutes left in the game, but more aggressive Barberton closed on a 13-4 run.
“We didn’t execute great down the stretch,” Cestaro said. “We could have gotten better looks on a couple of those big possessions.”
Highland, which saw center Ryan Chema (6 points) and backup point guard Tommy Williams (4, 3 rebounds) foul out, got eight first-half points, three boards and three assists from starting point guard Jake Osborne and six fourth-quarter points off the bench from power forward Preston Grinder, but shooting guard Tessena managed just three points on 1-for-7 3-point shooting.
Defensively, the Hornets sent the Magics to the line 29 times. Barberton, which was 9-for-16 at the stripe in the fourth period, finished the game with an 18-10 edge in free throws made.
“(Soyars) puts a lot of pressure on the officials and the defense by going to the rim hard,” Cestaro said. “He’s excellent at getting fouled. We got a little undisciplined a couple of times. We swung down instead of just staying straight up.”
The eighth-seeded Hornets will now turn their attention to No. 9 Firestone, a team they beat 87-83 in overtime in the second game of the season, in a Barberton Division I Sectional opener Wednesday at Highland. The winner will play top-seeded St. Vincent-St. Mary.
“It’s all or nothing in the tournament,” Profitt said. “We need to go as hard as we can every second, because if we don’t, we’re done.”
Contact Rick Noland at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @RickNoland on Twitter.
Barberton 75, Highland 72
BARBERTON 14 19 15 27 — 75
HIGHLAND 19 20 15 18 — 72
Barberton — Jordan Soyars 10-9-29, Santino Fox 1-0-2, Ethen Elliot 4-6-15, Jamair Blackmon 10-2-25, Maxwell Littlejohn 1-0-3, Bradley Eagle 0-0-0, Moses Petrie 0-0-0, Chad Burkhard 0-0-0, Stefan Dragic 0-1-1. TOTALS: 26-18-75.
Highland — Bryce Profitt 9-9-27, Alex Jaworski 6-0-15, Ryan Chema 3-0-6, Cole Tessena 1-0-3, Jake Osborne 4-0-8, Tommy Williams 2-0-4, Connor Klein 1-1-3, Preston Grinder 3-0-6. TOTALS: 29-10-72.
3-point goals — Blackmon 3, Littlejohn, Elliot, Jaworski 3, Tessena. Rebounds — Barberton 31 (Fox 11), Highland 32 (Profitt 15). Assists — Barberton 10 (Littlejohn 4), Highland 10 (Profitt 4). Records — Barberton (9-13, 5-7), Highland (10-12, 6-6). Junior varsity — Barberton 64, Highland 39.