McDONALD - After a 13-9 record last season that ended with a defeat in a Division IV district semifinal, McDonald brought Jeff Rasile back as coach after a one-year hiatus.
In the first two games of 2012-13, the Blue Devils are 2-0 and playing the kind of basketball McDonald fans have come to expect over Rasile's prior, eight-season run.
Tuesday night against Mineral Ridge, McDonald used its familiar press to keep the Rams off-balance and lock down an 82-73 victory.
"It feels ... I'm dying, I'm dying," Rasile said of being back on the bench. "It's exciting because of the competition. I love the competition. But we're back at work tomorrow night. That's the toughest part is you always have to go back at work. Two games a week and you're going right back at it."
Mineral Ridge coach Chris Kohl got a late start with his team, but he feels they're heading in the right direction.
"We've had 22 days with these guys," he said. "I got the job at the end of August and we've been working hard. I think our best basketball is definitely in front of us.
"They played their hearts out. Make a few more layups, make a few more free throws, box out, get a couple more rebounds, I think it's a completely different game."
Mineral Ridge (1-1) stayed neck and neck early, as Nathan Palmer scored 11 of his game-high 32 points in the first quarter. He scored to bring his team within a point and Ryan Nutter followed with another score for a 17-16 lead, the last of the game for the Rams.
The spark for McDonald was sophomore Anthony Pugh. The Blue Devils' 5-foot-7 sixth man came off the bench to score 14 points with four 3-pointers. His triple gave McDonald the lead for good at 19-17, and he hit another for a 26-21 second-quarter lead.
"I attribute it to my hard work in the offseason, but mainly my teammates, getting me open and getting me the ball where I needed it," Pugh said. "My role mainly is probably the floor general. Coach always tells me I'm the one that needs to settle everybody down, get everybody where they need to be."
"The point guards are my leaders on the court," Rasile said. "When he (Pugh) goes in the game, he's taking the ball out of Stephen Politano's hands, which should allow Stephen to get some better opportunities to score. I want good decision-making all the time with Anthony."
Stephen Politano followed with another 3 and another hoop to give McDonald a 33-21 advantage. The lead was maintained and the Blue Devils led 45-31 at halftime. Politano led McDonald with 19 points.
Mineral Ridge got as close as 60-53 in the third quarter on a basket by Zac Hagy, but McDonald had pushed the lead back out to 11 points at the end of the quarter.
"A lot of missed opportunities, I thought," Kohl said. "Missed 3s, I don't know what we shot from the line in the fourth quarter, but it couldn't have been really too good. When you have your opportunities against McDonald, you really have to convert on those."
The Blue Devils turned to Tyler Smith in the fourth quarter when they needed to keep Mineral Ridge at bay. Smith scored nine of his 18 points in the final period. He made a pair of baskets to twice push the lead out to 12 points, then scored four points in the final minute.
"We gave up (73) points. We've got a lot of work to do," Rasile said. "That's a good, sound basketball team. Coach Kohl does a great job. It wasn't like we thought we were going to come in here and roll over Mineral Ridge. We knew it was going to be a tough game."