Kirtland and Cardinal’s showdown on Tuesday for first place in the Chagrin Valley Conference Valley Division came down to the wire…and then some…and then some.
The Hornets held on to sole possession of first place in the division with a 54-49 double overtime win over the Huskies in a game broadcast on CVC TV.
“We knew it was going to be a battle,” said Kirtland coach Shawn McGregor. “They know what we do, we know what they do, so it was just a battle of wills. Both teams played their hearts out, and that’s all you can really ask for. A couple more things fell our way, but Jon (Cummins) does a good job at Cardinal and they have talented kids up and down their roster. It was just a great small-school high school basketball game.”
Cardinal gave the Hornets fits early as the Huskies built an early 14-6 lead.
Kirtland rallied late in the first quarter to pull to within 14-12 and then the Hornets outscored the Huskies in the second quarter, 11-3, to take a 23-17 lead into the break.
“When you have two kids that can play like they do—(Troy) Domen and (Jake) Bean—they did a great job of executing their stuff and they made us uncomfortable,” McGregor said. “Our kids struggled with it a little bit.”
The Hornets hit several key shots during their second quarter run including Dan Alfieri’s big 3-pointer and clutch baskets from Gino Blasini, Vince Carriero, and Will Sayle, who scored four of his eight in the second.
Whatever momentum the Hornets held heading into the locker room evaporated quickly as the Huskies made their move in the third quarter.
Bean scored six of his 12 and Domen and Tyler O’Brien both hit 3-pointers to spark a 14-4 run that left Cardinal in the lead after three, 31-27.
Kirtland trailed 40-34 with 1:08 remaining in regulation before a flurry of activity allowed the Hornets to close the quarter on a 6-0 run.
Blasini used a spinning layup to pull the Hornets to within 40-36 and then Sayle pulled down a defensive rebound on a missed free throw that led to a Carriero driving layup with 28 seconds left that cut Cardinal’s lead to 40-38.
Sayle then got a hand on Cardinal’s inbounds pass and Carriero recovered the loose ball. McGregor called a time-out as Carriero dished the ball to Blasini, who scored what would have been the game-tying bucket.
Instead, the Hornets had 21.6 seconds to set up a game-tying shot attempt.
Blasini accepted an inbounds pass from Nick Barisic, spun around a Cardinal defender, and tied the game with just 12.5 seconds remaining in regulation.
The Huskies had two opportunities to win the game in regulation in the closing seconds but both shots were off the mark.
Carriero willed the Hornets to win in overtime.
He went 6-for-6 from the free throw line and added a layup to seal Kirtland’s win in front of a packed house.
“It was so much fun to play,” said Carriero, who led the Hornets with 17 points. “The atmosphere was amazing. It was great to have the youth program there and good for them to get excited about Kirtland Basketball. We just came in with the mindset that we wanted to put ourselves in a good position for the CVC title. We just kept our focus and took it one possession at a time.”
Carriero also was masterful in breaking Cardinal’s press and setting up the Kirtland offense.
“He’s the little engine that could,” McGregor said. “You look at him and you don’t know what you’re going to get and then you watch him play and he’s everyone’s favorite. The things he does with his small stature, the passion he plays with, that inspires a lot of people. That’s really why you play athletics. You get to compete and inspire other people and you get to play in front of a packed crowd with a lot of little kids watching you. It was youth night so we had all the youth players from third through sixth grade there and that’s how you create excitement, and Vince definitely creates excitement with the way he plays.”
Blasini also scored in double figures for the Hornets with 12 points. Sayle contributed with eight, Owen Mueller scored six, Alfieri finished with five, Barisic scored four, and Jack Green added two points.
Domen led Cardinal with 13 points and Bean scored 12.
With the win, Kirtland improved to 10-6 overall and 6-0 in the Valley Division. The Hornets now hold a two-game lead over second-place Cardinal, who fell to 9-8, 5-2. With two wins over the Huskies, the Hornets also hold the head-to-head tie-breaker used by the CVC to break a two-team tie for the league championship.
The Hornets need to win just two of their final four league games—all at home–to secure the Valley Division title.
“We’re in NBA schedule mode right now playing three games a week,” McGregor said. “The kids are taking it in stride and they’re understanding as the season goes along the defensive concepts we’re trying to play with. We don’t do a lot of things differently, we just try to do what we do really well. If we can compete like we did tonight we’re a tough team to beat.”