HOWLAND - The effort was what you'd expect from the Girard Indians.
In winning 20 games entering Friday's Division III district final against the Ursuline Fighting Irish, the Indians almost always found a way to scale heights that seemed too daunting. They brought that same conquering spirit with them last night, but this climb was one the Indians couldn't plant a flag on to celebrate a moment of triumph.
Ursuline used its size advantage and multiple scoring options to build a lead as large as 20 points and then held off a determined run by Girard in advancing to the Canton regional with a 73-63 win before a sold-out gymnasium at Howland High School.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Ursuline’s Mark Hughes, right, and the rest of the Ursuline basketball team celebrate winning a Division III?district title over Girard, 73-63, Friday night at Howland High School.
"They (the Irish) are a lot like us," Indians coach Craig Hannon said. "They have a lot of guys that can fill it up and do a lot of things. That's why we've been successful, and that's why they're cutting nets down tonight.
"If you have guys that are threats and can play, it's hard to guard and game plan for because what are you going to do? It's like plugging a hole. You plug one hole and another hole opens up and leaks more water. It was just too hard for us."
The second-seeded Irish (17-8) exhibited their scoring depth by placing four players in double figures, led by sophomore David Collins with 22. In Ursuline's semifinal win over Newton Falls, it was junior guard Mark Hughes who did most of the damage from the outside with 30 points. Hughes had just three points in the first half (on a 3-point shot), but Collins picked up the slack with 12 points.
"We have so many scorers on our team," Collins said. "Everyone can shoot pretty well."
The Irish were able to do exactly what they did against Newton Falls build a big lead that was too difficult to overcome for the third-seeded Indians (20-4). Ursuline led 17-12 after the opening quarter and took a 32-23 lead into halftime.
The Indians needed something to break their way in the opening stages of the third quarter, but it was the Irish who opened the period with quick fielders by Hughes and Paul Jackson.
Ursuline stretched its lead to 20 points on two occasions - the last time at 56-36. The Irish had a 56-38 lead after the third quarter.
"I thought it would be tough for them (the Indians) to come back because of our size," Irish coach Keith Gunther said. "I thought that we would continually make them shoot challenged 3s. That's been us pretty much the whole tournament - we've been ahead. When you're up 17, 18, 19, it's hard for a team to come back because you have to expend so much energy."
The Indians didn't simply go through the motions in the fourth quarter. They cut the differential to 10 points at 62-52 and 68-58. Collins then missed two free throws, which was followed by a short jumper by Girard's Deonte Brown, who missed a chance to make it a three-point play at the foul line.
The clinching moment came when Brown missed two free throws that would have moved the Indians to within six points of tying the score. Gino Naples then brought the Ursuline faithful to its collective feet with a dunk on the other end.
"The guy who you won't see in the stats is Geno Naples - rebound the ball, defending, taking charges - had a heck of a ball game," Gunther said. "Another guy who we've been waiting on all year is Paul Jackson. With his size (6-6), he took advantage of them around the bucket. He had his best game of the year for us."
Greg Parella followed Collins in the scoring column with 16 points. Jackson had 12, Naples 11 and Hughes finished with 10 and nine rebounds.
Evan Standohar had 17 points and eight rebounds for the Indians. Dylan O'Hara had 15 points, Jim Standohar added 11, and Tyler Kilbourne scored 10.
"This is the destination, not the journey," Hannon said of the first district final appearance in his second year as a head coach. "I'm 27 years old, in my second year and I get to the district final. The worst part for me is I have four seniors that I don't get to coach again. But we've got a bunch of guys coming back, and the goal now is to do it every year."
Ursuline will meet Creston Norwayne in a regional semifinal at the Canton Fieldhouse Wednesday at 8 p.m. Gunther gave a little history lesson when assessing the upcoming challenge.
"People don't realize that 20 years ago nobody expected the Ursuline Irish to get to the regional, and they got there," Gunther said. "Nobody expected them to get out of the regional. Then they get to state, and nobody expected them to win state, and they ended up winning it."
The name Larry Senvisky will forever be remembered in the annals of Ursuline athletics for his tip-in of a desperation shot that gave the Irish a 55-53 win over Lima Central Catholic in March of 1994.
The dream is alive and well at Ursuline High School.