Playing without senior guard Joey Zaugg in a hostile environment against an elite team led by a West Virginia recruit should have been a recipe for disaster for the Mentor Cardinals.
Only problem is someone forgot to tell Coach Bob Krizancic and company that the Dec. 19 game at Shaker Heights was over before it started.
Micah Potter and Andrew Valeri led an inspired effort as short-handed Mentor used 13 players and hung on for a 60-58 victory over Shaker Heights and All-Ohio forward Esa Ahmad.
“I just told them after the game to expect to win these games. It’s not some great upset if you are mature and you believe you can win every game,” Krizancic said.
“We have so much respect for Shaker. To come here in this great atmosphere and win on their floor without Joey is huge for us. Especially after losing last week to Garfield in a game we felt like we should have won. It is a big win.”
Potter scored 16 of his team-high 20 points in the first half as the Cardinals and Raiders went to the locker room tied at 30. In the third quarter, a handful of Mentor players hit key shots including a pair of 3s by Austin Koss and a triple by Ian Tenkku.
A wild fourth quarter ended with Valeri (16 points) fouling out, Kyle McIntosh hitting a huge go-ahead layup late, Paul Sateika knocking down 4 of 4 free throws for Mentor, and Ahmad missing the first of three foul shots with 0.3 seconds left in regulatuion and his team trailing, 60-57.
“It’s the win we needed to get our season started,” Potter said. “We came in banged up, no Joey, and we beat a great Shaker team. A lot of guys came ready to play. We just came in with the mentality that we weren’t going to be afraid. We had to come in ready to win.”
There were 11 lead changes in the first half and seven more in the third quarter.
Koss’ second 3 of the night gave the Cardinals a 48-46 lead entering the fourth quarter and Mentor held the lead until Ahmad dunked to tie the game at 56 with less than 1 minute to play. McIntosh answered with a driving layup and Sateika hit a pair of foul shots for 60-56 edge.
“Going in without Joey was a big issue, but we went in very confident. I am proud of this team,” Valeri said. “It is a big statement but it is done and over with and we have to stay humble.”
After missing the first of three free throws with 0.3 seconds left, Ahmad made the second and missed the third, but Potter rebounded to end the game.
Mentor improved to 2-1 and was 45 seconds away from a 3-0 start before Garfield Heights rallied for a season-opening overtime win.
“I thought the Garfield loss was a tough loss, but we can use it as a good loss because we learned from it,” Krizancic said. “We have some guys who love to compete and love to go to war. Our guards have a lot of heart. Sateika was clutch. Potter was very good on both ends of the floor and just what he brings everywhere. Guys off the bench like Tenkku and Koss hit big shots. I am very proud of these guys tonight.”