Friday, December 9, 2022

Blue Devils stay hot in win over Kirtland

INDEPENDENCE—Something had to give when Kirtland traveled to Independence on Friday.

The visiting Hornets entered the game riding a seven-game winning streak while the host Blue Devils earlier in the week had pushed their own winning streak to eight games.

In the end, Independence made more plays down the stretch to beat the Hornets, 75-70.

“Hats off to Kirtland, they’re a very well-coached and disciplined team,” Independence coach Kyle Johnson said. “They play hard and they play fast the right way. They hit some great shots today. We were fortunate to get the win tonight.”

Kirtland led after the first quarter, 16-14, but the two teams traded the lead throughout the second quarter. A late and-one allowed the host Blue Devils to take a 31-30 lead into the break.

The Hornets used a 7-0 run in the third quarter to begin pulling away from the Blue Devils but that lead didn’t last as Wyatt Flynn scored 12 of his game-high 22 in the quarter to keep the Blue Devils within striking distance. Kyle Zygmunt took it from there and scored 12 of his 18 in the fourth.

“We did a good job of getting some stops and scoring in transition but they have two guys they can really go to with Zygmunt and Flynn and they made some plays toward the end,” Kirtland coach Shawn McGregor said. “We got a little lax and gave up some second-chance points where they missed a shot and we didn’t get the rebound. I think that hurt us.”

Independence finished the night 18-for-21 from the free throw line with 11 of those makes taking place in the second half.

“That’s been our Achilles heel all year, our free throw shooting,” Johnson said. “We’ve been shooting around 55 to 60-percent. If you want to win tight ball games, you have to hit free throws and guys did that. More importantly, in the fourth quarter we got stops when we needed them and not only that, we rebounded. Our first shot defense in the fourth quarter was very good. We didn’t give up many second-chance opportunities and that was key for us.”

The Blue Devils also showed off their depth as six other players scored in the game.

Thomas Ceculski contributed with eight points and Eric Mitrisin, Adam Miklovic, Matt Richards and Connor Blum each finished with six. Jack Taliaferro added two points in the win.

“Everybody played their role today,” Johnson said. “Hats off to our team; we rolled nine deep tonight and everyone contributed in the way that they can. Nobody tried to be somebody else today. We’ve been talking about that, play your role and do what you can do to help our team and that was a great team win. All nine guys played very well tonight.”

Joey Grazia and Jonathan Ridgeway both scored 11 points to lead the way for Kirtland. Zach Samsa also scored in double figured with 10 and Nick Vernon added nine. T.J. Green and Anthony DeMarco both scored eight points.

While nine Hornets scored in the game, it was the near misses that hurt Kirtland in the end.

“When you’re playing good teams, you’ve got to finish plays down the stretch and we didn’t do that tonight,” McGregor said. “We missed free throws and they made their free throws. We missed open, uncontested layups and they made theirs. It’s just one of those things; they executed better and finished plays at the end of the game. The thing that hurt us the most was the second chance opportunities that they had. Flynn did a nice job of getting on the glass, along with some of their other guys, and they got some easy cutbacks.”

Independence improved to 12-4 overall and 10-2 in the Chagrin Valley Conference Metro Division. Kirtland dropped to 12-3 overall and 11-2 in the CVC Valley Division.

The Blue Devils must beat Richmond Heights on Tuesday to keep alive their hopes of winning the league title. Kirtland needs just two more wins or a win and a Wickliffe lost to win the Valley Division crown.

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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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