Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Independence upset bid comes up short

Kyle Stefanski’s 3-point attempt as time expired probably never had a chance of finding the net, but the same could have been said about Independence’s chances of beating first place Berkshire prior to its narrow 53-51 loss to the Badgers on Friday.

The Blue Devils held a 44-38 lead over the Badgers heading into the fourth quarter but Berkshire was clutch at the free throw line and disrupted Stefanski’s potential game winner enough to pull out the win.

“They guarded him tough in the corner but he got a shot off and it got tipped,” said Independence coach Hugh McMahon of Stefanski’s final shot. “The clock ran off on that.”

Berkshire improved to 14-3 overall and 9-1 in the Chagrin Valley Conference Valley Division. Independence dropped to 4-13 and 3-8.

The Badgers beat Independence, 59-28, back on Jan. 20. McMahon hoped to see his players put forth a better effort in the second meeting between the two teams.

“We challenged them as a staff leading up to this game to step their game up and literally man on man do a better job of stopping guys,” McMahon said. “I thought they gave a great effort in accepting that challenge and they played their hearts out.”

Independence ended the first quarter with a 13-11 lead and trailed at halftime just, 31-28.

The Blue Devils outscored the Badgers, 16-7, in the third quarter to build their fourth quarter lead.

“We defended them,” McMahon said. “We did a good job and turned them over sometimes. We got ourselves a five to six point lead there in the fourth quarter. We didn’t execute the greatest down the stretch but we played hard and created some opportunities for ourselves.”

Berkshire connected on 26 free throws while Independence was just 7-of-12 from the line.

“They hit a couple more free throws than we did in the fourth quarter, which when it comes down to it in that close of a game the free throws are really that important,” McMahon said. “We fought through a whole heck of a lot after losing by 30 the last time and coming back tonight and having a chance to win. I’m really proud of the guys.”

Stefanski finished with a game-high 19 points and Mario Figliola added 11 for the Blue Devils. Jarett Smetana scored 17 for Berkshire.

“I’m really proud with how our guys are coming into being a good team at the most important time of the year,” McMahon said. “When you take the league leader down to the last seconds of a game, after losing by 30 the time before, it shows a lot of growth and a lot of maturity”

Independence travels to Kirtland on Tuesday to play the Hornets, who are tied with the Badgers for first place in the CVC Valley Division. Berkshire will play at Cuyahoga Heights on Tuesday.

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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