McDONALD - Mineral Ridge had a minor miscommunication to start the second half and ended up with only four players on the court when the whistle blew during their showdown with McDonald.
"A kid who was supposed to be in thought he was out, and I wasn't sure if I could just run somebody on the court," said Mineral Ridge coach Chris Kohl, who later found out he could send a player in during play. "I probably could've sent two guys in."
It might not have mattered the way Matt Seitz was shooting.
The McDonald senior scored 30 points - 26 coming in the second half - and Jake Reckard fired up the Blue Devils' defense, igniting a huge second-half surge that pushed McDonald past the Rams, 76-53.
Mineral Ridge, which won the first matchup between the two rivals, had a 31-29 halftime lead before becoming unglued. The Rams' demise started with turnovers, and Seitz, who spent most of the first half on the bench in foul trouble, made sure it ended with McDonald taking Round 2 of an Inter Tri-County League crosstown clash.
"I felt it right after I came out at halftime," said Seitz of finding his shooting touch. "I hit like three or four in a row, and I told coach, 'I think I'm ready.' And he said, 'You've got to have a big second half.' I came out and had a huge second half."
He wasn't the only one.
Reckard, a 6-foot sophomore, was a menace on the defensive end of the court, playing a huge role in the Blue Devils (9-3, 6-3 ITCL, Division II) forcing 10 turnovers in the third quarter. The suffocating, full-court press defense looked completely different than the first half, when the Rams (7-5, 4-4) were clicking in several phases. Corey Phillips, a speedy and high-flying 6-2 guard, was leading the way with 12 points, while Zac Hagy had nine and 6-6 center Ryan Nutter added six. Mineral Ridge's offense had rhythm, and the defense kept Seitz in check.
That was a distant memory after the third quarter, one that ended with McDonald outscoring the Rams 25-13 to give it a 10-point lead.
"This the first time in a big game that I felt like our kids smelled the blood and went after it," McDonald coach Jeff Rasile said. "We've really struggled closing out games. Our three losses, we could've won all three. Not that we deserve to be undefeated, but we could've won all three. This was the first time that I really saw us have that gut-check moment and respond to it. That lead went from eight to 10 to to 20 in a hurry."
That was partly thanks to Seitz hitting three consecutive 3-pointers to start the fourth and also because the Rams' offense went cold. The 6-3 Seitz came off numerous picks and was wide open on a few of his 3s. He made sure to point out that his big night was a team effort.
"I really trust my teammates," Seitz said. "They really stepped it up when I was out (in the first half). When I came back in the second half, they found me. They set awesome off-the-ball screens for me, and Jake Reckard was just all over the floor. After you see him making plays, other kids started making plays. It just opened up the transition game into the offense.
"I couldn't have asked for a better second half from my teammates."
Fellow senior Kenny Greaver carried McDonald offensively in the first half, scoring 10 points in the opening quarter. He finished with 20 and was a force on defense, blocking 11 shots. Point guard Anthony Pugh added 10 points and scored at key moments during the Blue Devils' second-half run.
It was a rally Kohl and Mineral Ridge knew could happen if the Rams didn't stick to their game plan, which centered around feeding Nutter in the middle (he scored 26 in the first matchup).
"The first half, we played really well," Kohl said. "We executed what we wanted to. And when McDonald picked up the pressure in the third quarter, we just didn't handle it very well. On top of that, Matt Seitz scores 26 points - and he hit some bombs. We tried to limit his touches, but they shook him free.
"We just have to get back to work and tune the offense a little bit. ... Hopefully, we'll get to see McDonald again at tournament time. That's what I told the guys."