BOARDMAN - Just four days after arriving at the ball in style, Cinderella left it in unceremonious fashion.
Struthers used great penetration and kick-outs in an opening-round upset of Howland, which many people expected to be in the Division II tournament for a while. March 6, the Wildcats' hope for a second stunner was ended quickly by Hubbard.
The Eagles used a 21-3 run, between the first and second quarters, to coast to a 61-39 victory in a D-II sectional final. Hubbard, which improved to 15-7, lost to Poland Tuesday night in a district semifinal. The Bulldogs (17-4) held off a gritty West Branch squad in last night's second game, 70-56.
Monday night Struthers shot extremely well in building a 17-point halftime lead. Last night the Wildcats' 17th point came with 3 minutes, 12 seconds remaining in the third quarter. By then, Struthers coach Joe Savko knew the striking of midnight was inevitable.
"It was (the Eagles)," Savko said when asked who was responsible for his team's 7-of-30 shooting in the first three quarters. "They imposed their will on us. We had the effort, we just didn't have the results."
A 3-pointer by Nick Ragan gave the 'Cats (7-15) a 5-4 lead late in a tough-to-watch opening quarter. But Kory Hopkinson's 3-pointer began an 8-0 run to close out the quarter. The Eagles then opened the second frame with a 13-3 spurt.
"I saw (the Wildcats) Monday night and I don't think they missed a shot in the first half," said Hubbard coach Rick Fox. "One of our goals tonight was to pressure the ball. We knew they really weren't quick enough to get around them."
Struthers was unable to get in the lane and the Eagle defense rotated perfectly to pressure the ball anytime it was passed outside. Add to that the fact that the Wildcats could not hit the few open looks they had and the game, for all practical purposes, was decided by halftime.
Hopkinson had seven first-quarter points while teammate Cory Farcas pulled down six rebounds. Sophomore Mike Lopuchovsky had four second-quarter boards as the Eagles reached intermission with a 29-10 lead. By halftime Hubbard had a commanding 24-10 lead on the boards, a battle it would also win, 38-23.
"Last time we played them (in a Hubbard win) they controlled the boards on us," Fox said. "(Adam Ryczaj), their sophomore did a nice job for them. He's going to be a very good player over the next couple of years."
Ryczaj was the only Wildcat with any success on the glass, pulling down eight rebounds. Hubbard entered the final eight minutes with a 47-21 advantage.
Senior Bobby Thompson had an outstanding effort for the winners, finishing with 12 points, 11 rebounds and six assists. Farcas added 12 points and eight rebounds while Kurtis Drummond also had a dozen points. Nate Jacubec paced the Wildcats with 12 points.
Savko, whose team loses two seniors but no starters, hopes the feeling of that first-round victory will be beneficial next season.
"That was a big win for us, a big win for our program," Savko said. "It was good for our young kids to experience."
In last night's second game, the Warriors (7-15) gave Poland everything it could handle for two-and-a-half quarters. West Branch matched the Bulldogs intensity and athleticism from the onset. The Warriors led 18-15 after a quarter and 36-32 at intermission.
"Their kids were excited to play and they were ready to play," said Poland coach Ken Grisdale. "They were prepared to handle what we threw at them and we didn't come out with the energy we needed to. But give a lot of credit to West Branch."
The Warriors led 39-36 early in the third quarter before Poland took over via a 17-2 run. The Bulldogs owned the quarter 21-5 and WB was never really a threat after that.
Niko Fatimus led the winners with 22 points.
"I thought his effort was good, his leadership was good," Grisdale said of his junior guard. "I was very pleased with Niko, but not with everybody else."
Ben Donlow added 21 points for the winners. The Warriors were paced by Chad Butcher's 12 points and Matt Tafe's 11.
Tuesday's district semifinal will be a rematch of a regular-season game at Hubbard, won by the Eagles 81-78.
"I think our kids would like to play Hubbard, but they would have liked to play West Branch too," Grisdale said. "They just want to play, or at least I thought they did until the first half tonight. If we don't come out ready to play Tuesday they'll hand our lunch to us."