Kennedy advances with road victory

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo John F. Kennedy’s B.J. Williams, left dribbles up court as Richmond Heights’ Curtis Houston II looks to keep pace Friday.

RICHMOND HEIGHTS — The six metal poles, painted white, jutted out of the wall, attached to a clear backboard and breakaway rim.

The chains, at a 45-degree angle, were coming from both side of the American flag hanging on the gymnasium wall of Richmond Heights High School.

The floor, worn in spots, had that blue dominance on the baselines with yellow highlights on the side.

It made John F. Kennedy coach Mark Komlanc think of his playing days at McDonald High School, visions of the old Roosevelt Gym.

“It’s a great atmosphere,” said Komlanc, whose fifth-seeded team beat fourth-seeded Richmond Heights Friday’s in a Division IV sectional bracket final, 85-75. “I wish more people were here tonight. I don’t think many people gave us a chance tonight.

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo John F. Kennedy’s Byron Taylor, middle, looks to pass while being defended by Richmond Heights’ Gbolahan Adio (3) during their game Friday.

“Our guys have a chip on their shoulder.”

No one showed it more than Byron Taylor. The 5-foot-10 senior guard had a game-high 42 points and added 10 rebounds.

Sharrod Taylor beat the buzzer on a transition layup to end the third quarter. That started a 9-0 Kennedy run.

Things started to crumble for Richmond Heights (19-5) as the Spartans finally broke the run with a pair of free throws, but B.J. Carter was caught hanging on the rim after Darious Dudley was fouled.

Byron had one of his free throws because of the technical. He went 10 of 13 from the line and Kennedy (13-10) was 19 of 26. Richmond Heights was 4 of 7.

There were a lot of oddities in Friday’s game. The Kennedy score on the board was incorrect multiple times, even the final was wrong — shortchanging the Eagles a point.

Komlanc said the buzzer went off when JFK was shooting a free throw.

The Richmond Heights players were trash talking during the game, trying to rattle the Eagles. Some of the jabs were directed toward the Kennedy crowd.

To the officials’ credit, they really let a lot go in this one — making this game more of a playground-style game, which was very comical at times.

“We all do that to each other in practice,” Taylor said. “It’s nothing to us. You have to stay calm and play together and we’ll be fine.”

Kennedy was tested again as Curtis Houston’s putback drew the Spartans within 72-70 with 1:40 remaining. He led Richmond Heights with 25 points.

Taylor saw the opening and rifled a pass through the Richmond Heights defense to find a wide-open Tyler James, who had 28 points and 12 rebounds. The 6-6 senior post, who is much more reserved than Taylor, had more than a handful of putbacks for the Eagles.

“Every team needs those different personalities to be able to be at your best,” Komlanc said. “We have all those pieces. We have the fiery guys. We have the laid back guys. We have the guys who let their work do the talking. Tyler is one of those guys who does that.”

That play started a run in which JFK outscored Richmond Heights 13-5 to end the game — a game which was capped by a one-handed slam by Taylor in the final 30 seconds. The Spartans were whistled for another technical with 27.3 seconds left, calling a timeout they didn’t have.

As Taylor and James gave a mutual chest bump at the end of the game, Taylor knew he had to overcome an enclosed atmosphere where it was a bit of a time warp. The Richmond Heights student section was very raucous during the final quarter and even revved up during the Spartans’ comeback — reverberating their collective sound around the small gymnasium.

Through it all, the Eagles remained focused as they head to Grand Valley High School for Monday’s district semifinal against top-seeded Cornerstone Christian — a rematch of last year’s district final.

“When it’s small like this and packed, you’ve got to stay focused and work together as a team,” Taylor said.

When Komlanc gathered his team at halftime, he reminded the returning players what it felt like to lose to Lutheran East in last year’s Canton Regional final — one step from the state final four and a possible state championship.

“There’s no worse feeling in the world,” he said. “I didn’t want them to feel that tonight.”

After the game, the McDonald High School graduate could reminisce about the surroundings and think back to his playing days — not lament about a loss.