Kirtland coach Nick Gallo graduated from Wickliffe in 2005 and teaches eighth grade Language Arts at the school. On Friday, he guided the Hornets to a 64-61 overtime win over the Blue Devils amidst some friendly taunts from his students and a charged up environment for the Chagrin Valley Conference Valley Division showdown.
“It was a cool environment tonight,” Gallo said. “They had a nice crowd there. Being a teacher at the school, they brought a great atmosphere for it and the kids had a little extra effort tonight because of my connection to the school and playing there and walking into my alma mater. There were a lot of Gallo chants tonight and they had a picture of me in the student section. It was fun. It’s weird going against your alma mater and where you teach but the kids had some fun with it. To walk out on top in overtime like that was pretty cool.”
The Hornets, who improved to 8-5 overall and 4-3 in the CVC, got off to a slow start but managed to tie Wickliffe at halftime, 24-24.
Wickliffe led after three quarter, 46-38.
“They controlled the pace early on in this game,” Gallo said. “They came up and pressed us. They kind of took us out of our rhythm offensively and we turned the ball over.”
Evan Madden found his groove in the second half and Jacob Boyd hit a pair of 3-pointers in the final quarter of regulation to help the Hornets climb back into the game to force overtime.
That’s when Madden really caught fire. He scored six of the Hornets’ nine points in the extra period.
“Evan really did a good job of attacking and getting the extra shots,” Gallo said. “He got out of his funk a little bit. He’s kind of been in a scoring lull a little bit for us. We’re trying to find different ways for him to knock down shots and make plays for us. It was nice to see him really play a sound basketball game even though we got in trouble in the first half.”
Kirtland’s Owen Lewis, who finished with eight points, made a difference in the first half as Wickliffe had started to pull away from the Hornets.
“I can’t say enough about Owen Lewis. The guy just comes in, he clocks in and clocks out,” Gallo said. “When he’s there he’s so engaged whether it’s on the sideline being a cheerleader for us but when he comes in he knows his job. I can’t really say enough about him. When things were getting away from us he had a couple of threes for us. He’s just a lunch pail guy. He does what he needs to do.”
The win kept the Hornets a half game in front of Berkshire for first place in the Valley Division. The Badgers won at Kirtland earlier this season and if both teams continue to win their Feb. 13 game in Burton could decide the conference title.
“We’re taking it one basketball game at a time,” Gallo said. “The league title is extremely important to us but we’re trying to preach a marathon, not a sprint. We have a long week this week. We have Beachwood ahead of us on Saturday, which is going to be a really tough game. We’re going to have to come in and play a really sound basketball game.”