Intense look at this year’s Division IV boys tournament

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo John F. Kennedy’s Byron Taylor, right, guards Cleveland Central Catholic’s Trevon Wells. The Eagles start Division IV tournament play tonight at home.

Mentor.

St. Ignatius.

Garfield Heights.

All established Division I teams. All defeated by Cornerstone Christian, the top-seeded team in this year’s Division IV Orwell district tournament.

Michael Bothwell, who is committed to Furman University, is a 6-foot-4 guard averaging 25 points per game, having nearly 50 3-pointers, six rebounds and five assists per game. He’s a candidate for this year’s Mr. Basketball.

Special to Tribune Chronicle / Dianna Oatridge McDonald’s Zach Rasile, right, is guarded by Lowellville’s Joe Ballone during a regular-season game.

And, did anyone mention he’s scored more than 2,000 points in his career with the 15-7 Patriots?

Kendall Saunders and Ricky Adams are some of the supporting cast.

“I keep telling everyone, I don’t know if there’s anyone in Division II, III or IV that would switch any of us places and come to our district, mainly because of Cornerstone,” said Bristol coach Craig Giesy, whose second-seeded team hosts the winner of tonight’s Mathews-Ashtabula St. John game on Friday in a sectional bracket final. “Cornerstone is a monster of a team. The wins they have on their schedule are hard to believe.”

CONFIDENT PANTHERS

The Panthers (20-2) have setbacks against LaBrae and Windham, but have wins against Western Reserve Academy, Cardinal Mooney, Champion and Garfield.

Tribune Chronicle file / John Vargo Bristol’s Bobby Evan, left, keeps the ball away from Cardinal Mooney’s Johnnie Mikos in Bristolville.

Cornerstone Christian, John F. Kennedy (the fifth-seeded team) and Bristol all beat Western Reserve Academy.

Bryan Gabrielson, a four-year starting point guard, along with backcourt teammate Tommy Donadio, average around 16 points per game. Gabrielson has about six assists per outing.

Gage Elza and Bobby Evan each average double figures in scoring on this veteran-laden team. Evan, a transfer from Maplewood, leads the team with seven rebounds per game.

Despite being undersized compared to some teams, like Cornerstone, fourth-seeded Richmond Heights and JFK, Giesy said his team has to find ways to rebound.

“We’ve put together some solid games the last month,” he said. “We feel like we can play a couple of different ways, playing fast, obviously. We feel we can play in a half-court situation as well at a high level. We’re confident going into the tournament.”

BATTLE-TESTED JFK

Kennedy feels the same, despite a loss to Cleveland Central Catholic to end the season.

The Eagles and coach Mark Komlanc, whose team is 12-10, won five of their last seven to end the regular season and have one of the best guards in the area in Byron Taylor, who averages more than 25 points per game.

“We’re at a point where we’re comfortable against anybody,” he said.

JFK hosts Lordstown in a first-round sectional game tonight.

The winner of that game plays tonight’s winner between Richmond Heights and Bloomfield.

In postseason play, if the score differential is 35 points or greater, there is a continuous clock. The clock goes back to normal if the gap is less than 30.

There could be a match-up at Richmond Heights on Friday between the four and five seeds.

“We feel confident with what we’ve done and the work we’ve put in, they’re going to be prepared for it,” Komlanc said. “I don’t think they’re afraid of any challenge. They don’t think of the challenge that we could POTENTIALLY play Richmond Heights at Richmond Heights. They haven’t said one word about it. They just want to go out and play.”

The winner of that game could face Cornerstone Christian in a district semifinal at Grand Valley High School.

There are mostly Northeastern Athletic Conference on the other side of the bracket where it might end up being a third meeting between Bristol and third-seeded Windham. The teams split the season series.

McDONALD’S PATH NOT ANY EASIER

As difficult as the Orwell District is, the Division IV Struthers District has its challenges as well.

McDonald is the top-seeded team and has been in a district final the 14 years coach Jeff Rasile has been with the Blue Devils.

This district is one that perplexes the McDonald coach.

“This is one of the most difficult district tournaments we’ve ever been involved in because of the balance. I’m not so sure there’s one really dominant team,” Rasile said.

The 19-2 Blue Devils are led by sophomore Zach Rasile, a 6-foot point guard who has scored more than 1,000 points in his career. Braedon Poole, a 6-5 senior, is the other part of this team’s 1-2 punch with 26 points per game.

Zach Rasile, who recently had a visit from West Virginia coach Bob Huggins at a practice, has been hounded by most of his opponents.

“We’ve literally seen every defense that is out there because of teams playing junk defenses on Zach,” Jeff Rasile said. “You just don’t know what you’re going to see. We prepare for everything, which is crazy. We have to prepare for triangle and two, the box and ones and everything else. That’s concerning at times.

“When you’re preparing for a box and one let’s say, guys have to step up. Fortunately they’ve done that this year.”

VIABLE CONTENDER

Valley Christian, the third-seeded team awaiting the winner of tonight’s Lisbon-Leetonia game for Friday’s sectional bracket final, has had a successful year in the Portage Trail Conference, County Division.

The Eagles (14-7, 9-3 PTC County) played in the North Coast League White Tier for the previous couple of seasons. The PTC doesn’t have the athletic players like the NCL had, but it provided a great challenge to Valley Christian and had them competitive — giving the Eagles confidence.

“Very physical league, very well-coached league,” Eagles coach Dolph Carroll said. “We really enjoyed it. It was a great league to be in that we could compete.”

Valley Christian doesn’t have one main scorer, but relies on Jordan Trowers, Jamynk Jackson, Milan Square and Melvin Neail to lead the way for the Eagles.

“It doesn’t matter what your record was,” Carroll said. “We’ve been seeded as low as eighth or ninth and we were fortunate to win it. It’s a matter of who’s playing the best at that time.

“You can’t look past anybody.”

Rasile knows that. McDonald faces the winner of tonight’s Wellsville-St. Thomas Aquinas game, and he sees St. Thomas and East Canton as some teams that are dangerous in this tournament. The Blue Devils hosts that winner Friday in a sectional bracket final.

“There’s no easy games,” Rasile said. “I’m not a fan of what (Northeast Ohio District Board) did. I think it took away the freedoms of the coaches. I don’t want to take a bye. I want to play games. I think that first game gets momentum. It takes you away from that momentum.”

The Blue Devils have one focus, winning another district title.

“That’s what we play for. I wish I could tell you we play for state championships, but that’s not practical,” Rasile said. “Our state championship, in many ways, is that district championship, trying to get to regionals and give ourselves a shot. That’s our No. 1 goal. It’s above everything else.”

COMMENTS