MINERAL RIDGE - Friday night's game between Mineral Ridge and McDonald was the wildest contest in the series in years. Fouls and physical play dominated throughout, with the teams combining for numerous fouls and 61 free throws, and five McDonald players fouling out.
The Rams used their raucous home crowd and a new-found confidence under first-year coach Chris Kohl to earn their first win over their rival in years, 61-56.
"Very physical game on both ends," Kohl said. "Tonight I think that was a little bit to our advantage. We were able to feed a bit off of that aggressiveness. We told our guys it was going to be an aggressive game."
With the two towns being so close together, the rivalry will naturally split loyalties among family members.
"(Mineral Ridge's) Zac Hagy and (McDonald's Matt) Seitz are cousins," Kohl said. " They go back and forth all year long. We're kind of used that. Do you want to be the team that loses or do you want to be the team that wins? These guys go back and forth all the time. Probably tonight, Hagy will be over at Seitz's house in McDonald sleeping over. They're pretty close. That's kind of nice."
McDonald coach Jeff Rasile said while he wasn't pleased with all the calls made in the game, he said his team didn't do what they needed to do to win.
"I thought some of the calls could've gone our way," he said. "They didn't, that's life. We didn't do the things we needed to do to win the game. Gotta make free throws - 4 for 14 in the first half. Missed the front ends of two 1 and 1s, that's 4 for 16. Make free throws and rebound and you win the game."
Mineral Ridge (15-7) took the lead for the first time late in the first half and extended to a pair of double-digit leads in the second half.
After the Rams took a 44-34 lead early in the fourth quarter, the Blue Devils (17-4) fought back into the game. Anthony Pugh scored four consecutive points to cut the deficit to 50-47, then Mineral Ridge's Ryan Nutter earned his fifth foul, and added a technical on top of it. Kenny Greaver missed both free throws, but Pugh sunk both technical foul shots to bring McDonald to within 50-49 with 3:07 to play.
That was close as the Blue Devils got, as Hagy and Corey Phillips each split a pair of free throws to give the Rams a 56-51 advantage with one minute left. Mineral Ridge made 5 of 6 free throws the rest of the way to ice the victory.
Facing a deficit and needing a comeback, McDonald players got aggressive, perhaps too aggressive, as Christian Rusinowski, Seitz, Greaver, Patrick Kunkel and Zack Conley all fouled out in the second half. The Rams subsequently earned 35 trips to the foul line.
"The fouls don't bother me," Rasile said. "The lack of free-throw shooting and rebounding did. Rebounding takes a little bit of guts and heart. We didn't do it."
Kohl got a late start in taking over the Mineral Ridge program, but he and his staff have the Rams' confidence at a level not seen in years. He gave all the credit to his assistant coaches and the players themselves.
"I gotta give a lot of that to my coaching staff," he said. "I have a couple guys from Struthers that played for me when I coached as a varsity assistant at Struthers. These guys have come in and really worked these guys and changed the mind-set here. I don't think these guys expected to win a whole lot. We told them, we expect to win.
"One of the things I was told was, you've got to beat McDonald. That's a big rivalry and always has been. We beat them in football and we lost to them the first time (this season). We kind of circled this one on the calendar. We did some homework on them. We prepared for this game."