Kirtland made a statement in its league-opening win at Crestwood on Friday.
The Hornets routed the host Red Devils, 77-53, in a rematch of last season’s Division III district semifinal while also winning the battle between two of the top three teams in the Chagrin Valley Conference Valley Division preseason coaches’ poll.
“We just wanted to come out and play good basketball,” said Kirtland coach Shawn McGregor. “We knew it was an important game as far as the CVC Valley goes. They’re one of the top teams and it’s always one game at a time, but this was the team that knocked us out last year so to come in and play the way we did, I think it said a lot about the character of our guys and being ready to play and focus. It was a battle but when our opportunities came to make plays and extend the lead, we did that.”
Kirtland led after the first quarter, 16-15, but began to pull away in the second and held a 36-29 lead at the break.
Crestwood’s Aidan Gutglueck opened the third quarter with a 3-pointer that pulled the Red Devils to within four but the Hornets took over after that.
Ramon Lescano drained a pair of 3s and Mason Sullivan added one and T.J. Green scored seven of his game-high 20 in the period as the Hornets outscored the Red Devils, 26-10, and took a 62-39 lead into the fourth quarter.
“I just think the pressure from the first half got to them,” McGregor said of the effect Kirtland’s aggressive defense had on the Red Devils. “We’re on our sixth game and they’re on their second game, so I think just pressing for four quarters, I think we got to their legs a little bit and they got into some foul trouble and things like that. I think it was that constant pressure and guys stepping up and making some plays, it was good to see.”
Green, the biggest player on the court, was especially effective in the first half pulling down rebounds and creating second and third-chance scoring opportunities for the Hornets.
He scored eight points off putbacks in the second quarter.
Joey Grazia contributed to the win with 14 points and Lescano finished with nine. Jonathan Jackson, Mason Rus and Anthony DeMarco each pitched in with eight.
“We’re athletic and when we play hard and we’re running on all cylinders, we’re a tough team to play,” McGregor said. “We played physical on the glass and won the rebounding edge. They’re talented and they have some good players but it’s crazy how hard our kids have played the last two games.”
The Hornets have now won two straight games after opening the season with three straight losses.
“We’re getting some guys back and knocking the rust off,” McGregor said. “We’re getting back to playing some good Kirtland basketball, getting after it on the defensive end and controlling the glass on both sides. I’m just proud of the way they played.”
Trent Jakacki led Crestwood with 15 points and Austin Johnson and Mitchell Ward also scored in double figures for the Red Devils with 11 and 10 points, respectively.