BURTON—Clutch 3-pointers and a strong defensive effort led Berkshire to a 54-47 win over visiting Kirtland on Thursday and left the Badgers in sole possession of first place in the Chagrin Valley Conference Valley Division.
Berkshire outscored Kirtland, 17-8, in the third quarter and the Badgers were tough down the stretch in sweeping the season series between the conference rivals.
“They made a few more plays than we did,” said Kirtland coach Nick Gallo. “The third quarter was a huge quarter for them. We scored eight points. They did a good job defensively on us after the first quarter. We scored just 30 points after the first quarter and you’re not going to win too many ball games doing that.”
Kirtland was hot early in building a 17-11 first quarter lead.
Owen Lewis and Evan Madden both hit 3-pointers in the first quarter to kick start the Hornets’ offense.
Berkshire’s Jarett Smetana followed Madden’s three with one of his own and the Badgers made a run in the second quarter to pull to within 24-22 at halftime.
Smetana, who finished with a game-high 24 points, hit another three early in the third quarter to give the Badgers their first lead of the game, 25-24.
Berkshire used two six-point runs to take a 39-29 lead late in the third.
As hot as its offense was, Berkshire’s defense was even better.
“They were hard-hedging the ball screens we run in the high pick and roll,” Gallo said. “We were trying to get downhill, which we did in the first quarter and some in the second. They did an excellent job. They didn’t hedge as hard. They sat underneath it a little bit more, which hurt us.”
Kirtland pulled to within 41-36 with an opportunity to make it a one possession game until the Badgers forced a turnover and Emil Hess hit a 3-pointer to make it 44-36.
Lewis hit a 3-pointer to pull Kirtland to within five for the second time in the quarter but again the Badgers responded. This time it was Sam Fisher who hit a clutch 3-pointer and the Hornets never recovered.
“Hess hits a big three when we were trying to trap at the end,” Gallo said. “Fisher hits a huge three that put them up by 10 to make it a four-possession game, which really kind of was the dagger.”
The Hornets, who dropped to 9-6 overall and 8-2 in league play, also struggled from the free throw line where they converted on just 6 of 14 attempts.
“We didn’t hit free throws well,” Gallo said. “That’s eight points and we lose by seven. If one more three goes down and a couple more free throws and we’re right there. They just made more plays than we did. They’re 16-3 for a reason. They’re a good basketball team.”
The Badgers improved to 11-1 in league play and are in sole possession of first place with a road game at Hawken on Tuesday and a home game against Richmond Heights on Feb. 12 left on the league schedule. Kirtland has four league games left to play including two against third place Cuyahoga Heights and single games against Cardinal and Fairport.
Berkshire and Kirtland split the league title last season but the Hornets are going to need some help from Hawken or Richmond Heights if they hope to earn a share of the title this season.
“It’s one at a time,” Gallo said. “Anything can happen in the league. Friday night (against Cardinal) is going to be tough because playing a back to back is really hard. It’s Senior Night and that will be fun to celebrate these seven seniors.”
Gallo’s message to his players was to take care of what they can control and the rest could take care of itself.
“The league isn’t over,” he said. “We’ve got to take care of business and finish it out. We’ve got some tough games left but if we take care of business maybe something can happen. We have a lot of basketball left to play. My message to the guys was 16-6 sounds pretty good. Our losses being Chagrin Falls, Perry, Lake Catholic, University School and twice to Berkshire would not be a bad resume going into the playoffs.”