After being swept by Southwestern Conference opponent Berea twice in the regular season, the third time proved to be the charm for the Avon Lake boys basketball team when it counted the most. The Shoremen avenged those earlier losses and advanced to the districts for the first time in nine years after defeating the Braves 50-47 in a Division I overtime thriller at Midview High School Saturday.
“This game went pretty much as we expected,” Avon Lake head coach Eric Smith said. “Even though we lost to them twice during the season, they were both three-point games. The first time Berea scored with 30 seconds left to take the lead, so getting the guys ready to play was not hard.
“Berea is a team that is very athletic and makes runs during the game. We told the guys to just keep playing and we would get back into it. We were not going to get it all back at once, we just have to take one possession at a time.”
Shoremen sophomore Eric Stuczynski came up with big plays in the waning moments of the contest, hitting a 3-pointer with 27 seconds left in overtime to give Avon Lake a 48-47 lead. After a defensive stop on the other end, Stuczynski came up with a loose ball, was fouled and hit two free throws to seal the game. The 3-pointer was his only triple of the night. He missed his first five 3-point shot attempts in the contest. He finished with a team-high 12 points.
“They were playing a zone at the end and they drew up a play for me,” Stuczynski said. “Dom (Whitefield) and Ronnie (Willoughby) had two good screens to get me the open shot, and it worked out. Coach just kept telling me to keep shooting because eventually they would fall. Fortunately it was the last one that went in.
“Berea is a good team and we finally beat them in the playoffs, which counts the most, so it felt great.”
Whitfield and Willoughby finished with 10 points apiece. Brandon Muck (six points), T.J. Thompson (five points, one 3-pointer), Pat England (five points, one 3-pointer) and Trent Toy (two points) rounded out the scoring for Avon Lake.
“Everyone who played had a big part in what we did,” Smith said. “Ronnie had 10 points and five rebounds, Dom had 10 points and seven rebounds and Pat England had five big points off the bench in the second half. Brandon Muck had five rebounds to go along with his six points. It was truly a team effort.”
The fourth-seeded Shoremen (15-7 overall) will take on second-seeded Brunswick (17-4) at 8 p.m. tonight at Midview High School in the district semifinals. Brunswick’s 77-38 win over Admiral King Saturday gave the Blue Devils its eighth sectional title since 2000.
With a front line that feature players 6’5”, 6’7” and 6’9” in height, Smith knows Avon Lake will have its hands full in the paint.
“Brunswick is a big, strong, physical team,” he said. “They like to pound it inside. We will try to slow that down by really pressuring their guards in the full court and giving help inside in the half court.
“I don’t know how the game will end up, but I can guarantee you that we will show up and play hard.”