Monday, February 6, 2023

Blue Devils earn signature win over Hornets

INDEPENDENCE—Credit Independence coach Mike Marcinko’s post-holiday message to his players for the Blue Devils’ 37-31 upset win over Kirtland on Wednesday.

The Blue Devils opened the second half of the season with a 46-39 loss to rival Cuyahoga Heights back on Jan. 4 that dropped their record to 5-5.

Marcinko challenged his players, most of them freshmen and sophomores, to step up their level of play and pull out some of the close games they had trouble finishing in the first half of the season.

Since then, the Blue Devils are 6-1 and with a signature win over the Hornets, who were tied for first place in the Chagrin Valley Conference Valley Division.

“We go all the way back to after the holidays about us not wanting to be average,” Marcinko said. “We put a good run together in the second half but that stacks the deck again. We beat Harvey, which was a good team, we beat these guys. We can go up against good teams and be successful. We don't have to take a backseat to anybody.”

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Kirtland, which won the first matchup back in December, 68-27, was playing without point guard Katie McCollister, lost for the season with a knee injury, and leading scorer Sydney Snyder was battling an illness but still scored a game-high 17 points.

Independence challenged the Hornets on both ends of the floor and didn’t buckle under the pressure late in the game.

“That's a nice win,” Marcinko said. “Just the idea of improving from the last time we played them, and I know they were down their point guard, but still, Bob (Bell) does a heck of a job. They’re well-coached and they played their hearts out. We knew coming in we were going to have to play hard and execute. It couldn't have meshed together really any better and we ended up sealing the deal.”

Kirtland led 7-6 after the first quarter and 13-11 at halftime.

The Blue Devils picked up the intensity in the second half and got stronger in the closing minutes.

Leading 19-18 after three, the Blue Devils outscored the Hornets, 18-13, in the final eight minutes of play.

“(The Hornets) don't normally allow that but we got ourselves a couple of breakouts so we didn't have to go against the pressure,” Marcinko said. “We got a couple layups and free throws so we were scoring and even though the clock was stopped I don't care, as long as we're scoring.”

Freshman Haylee Dmitruk, who scored five of her 13 points and converted 3-of-4 free throws in the fourth quarter, perfectly executed the offense in the final frame.

Twice she found Megan Kuczmarski on set plays.

Kuczmarski also scored 13 for the Blue Devils.

“At the end we're running our version of our 5-Out Motion and we get Megan out on those two curl cuts and Haylee hits her right in stride,” Marcinko said. “That's how it looks in practice. You couldn't have drawn it up or executed it any better and at a crucial time.”

Kuczmarski scored six points in the final eight minutes and Riley Wilson contributed with three of her six in the fourth.

With Snyder ailing, the Hornets were looking for a more balanced offense but the Blue Devils denied them at the basket.

Lauren Snyder and Jenna Sayle both scored five points and Julia Camino added four for the Hornets but Kirtland’s offense stalled out during key stretches of the game.

“With Sydney being sick, that certainly had a big effect on us and we didn't step up very well as a team,” said Kirtland coach Bob Bell. “We played hard. I told the girls, I said, 'We played hard, nobody questions how hard we played, we just didn't play particularly well.' We've got to be able to make some shots. If you don’t' score in this game you're going to have a hard time winning.”

The Hornets, who dropped a 27-25 game at Cuyahoga Heights, have now struggled offensively in back to back games.

“Credit to our defense, but you still have to be able to counter with some offense,” Bell said. “We know what we have to work on and we have to keep working on it. We have to get back and get to practice tomorrow and Friday and just get our game back, get things going for us and start making some shots. We have to spread the scoring out a little bit and not depend on one person.”

Independence improved to 11-6 overall and 8-4 in the CVC while Kirtland dropped to 15-4, 10-2.


Steve Hare
Steve Hare is the Chagrin Valley Conference's Sports Information Director. He also created and publishes, an online publication dedicated to providing hyperlocal coverage to area high school athletic programs. Hare began covering high school sports for the Lake County News Herald in 1997. Hare attended Willoughby South High School through the middle of his senior year, then graduated from Berkshire High School in Burton in 1986. He played football, wrestled and was an all-Geauga county baseball player (1986). He lives in Chardon with his wife Paulette and their children.

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