Plenty of pros, cons in D-IV tilt

McDONALD – McDonald’s Division IV regional semifinal against Lutheran East puts the Blue Devils in an interesting situation, with compelling pros and cons for each team.

The positives for the Blue Devils and coach Jeff Rasile are that Lutheran East hasn’t been dominating teams lately, with close victories in both the district semifinal and final. The negative for McDonald is that the Falcons are more than capable of dominating just about anyone.

“They’re very good,” Rasile said. “Just glancing at some things, some articles written throughout the state, there are several newspapers that are picking them to win the state championship. They’re deep, they’re skilled, they’re athletic, so it’s going to be a tough challenge.”

That doesn’t mean tonight’s 6:15 p.m. matchup at the Canton Fieldhouse isn’t a winnable game.

Lutheran East (19-5) narrowly beat Mogadore (57-49) and Jeromesville Hillsdale (63-59) in last week’s district, and those are teams Rasile said are “similar to” the Blue Devils (23-3).

“Our three losses this year have come against teams that have size,” he said. “This isn’t a team that has a huge kid in the middle or anything of that nature. Our biggest guy is like 6-3, Matt Howard. We’ve got kids in that 6-2, 6-3 range. They’re very similar. They’re not huge, by any means. They have a couple kids that are 6-3, so it’s not a situation where they have 6-8, 6-10 kids. We’re fine height-wise.”

What makes the Falcons so dangerous are players like Keandre Givens (a 6-3 forward) and Alexander Heath (a 5-8 point guard), two athletic players with a lot of talent. The pair was the driving force in Lutheran East’s win over state-ranked Mogadore in the district final, combining for 29 points. Such a total isn’t exactly jaw-dropping, but the Falcons have about six or seven other players of similar talent who can score at the same rate.

“The athleticism across the board and the depth,” said Rasile of what makes Lutheran East so good. “One of the advantages we typically have over teams is our depth, but they play eight to 10 guys, so that’s not going to help us much. It’s not one or two guys – although they have two or three kids that are really good basketball players – I just think across the board, they’re solid.”

So are the Blue Devils.

Senior Jake Reckard, a 6-1 guard, leads the team with 15 points per game. He also averages eight rebounds, seven assists and five steals. Evan Magill, a 6-2 junior, puts up 12 points and eight boards. Howard has been consistent on the defensive end and adds nine points and six rebounds per game.

McDonald also is no stranger to playing deep into the tournament. This is McDonald’s fourth regional appearance under Rasile, and in the Blue Devils’ last regional semifinal in 2011, they knocked off previously unbeaten and highly touted Richmond Heights.

“They were 24-0. We were 23-0 at the time, and nobody gave us a shot at winning that game, and we beat them,” Rasile said. “So, we’re hoping maybe a repeat.

“We’ll find out in a hurry. I told the kids the game start at 6:15, and if we don’t come to play, the game could be over by 6:20. We have to really come ready to play, mentally and physically.”

That’s a big question mark because while the Blue Devils are battle-tested after playing a tough Inter Tri-County League schedule, Lutheran East’s schedule was even better. Rasile said all five of the teams that beat the Falcons are still playing in the postseason (including a close loss to Division I Garfield Heights – Warren G. Harding’s opponent Wednesday).

Still, neither team made the regional last year (Lutheran East lost its first postseason game each of the last four years), and Rasile hopes McDonald takes advantage of that.

“One difference between the team that won in 2011 and made it to the regional final is they were also there in 2010, so they had a year under their belt at the Canton Fieldhouse,” he said, “but neither does Lutheran East.

“(The fieldhouse) is a bowl, so there are fans behind the hoops, which is different than most high schools. Typically kids struggle to shoot there the first time they play there, so that may play to our favor a little bit.”

It’s one of the pros that gives McDonald hope.