Returning the favor

Cornerstone ends JFK’s season in district semi

Tribune Chronicle / Joe Simon Byron Taylor, left, of John F. Kennedy tries to get past Cornerstone Christian defender Dontavius Henry on Monday night at Grand Valley High School in a Division IV district semifinal.

ORWELL — It was a long 12 months for the Cornerstone Christian basketball team, and Sunday was a long night for its coach.

Seeing the John F. Kennedy Eagles on Monday in a Division IV district semifinal brought back haunting memories. It was JFK that knocked off the Patriots in last year’s district tournament, when a lot of people, including most of Cornerstone Christian High School, thought the Patriots had the makings of a state championship team.

The Eagles ended their season in heartbreaking fashion.

Cornerstone Christian returned the favor Monday at Grand Valley High School.

The top-seeded Patriots erased a 10-point, first-half deficit and dominated the final two quarters, ending JFK’s season with a 72-56 victory.

Tribune Chronicle / Joe Simon John F. Kennedy coach Mark Komlanc checks the scoreboard late in the Eagles’ loss to Cornerstone Christian on Monday at Grand Valley as his players react on the bench.

Cornerstone (17-7) came in with impressive wins over some of Ohio’s elite teams (a few being from Divisions I and II), but Patriots coach Dan Selle admitted he was concerned about JFK.

“For the last 12 months I’ve been in pain because of them,” Selle said. “That program made us better. It’s a good rivalry, and competition makes you better. I was worried though. I didn’t sleep last night. I could not sleep I was so worried about (JFK).”

Early on, it looked like he had good reason to fear the Eagles.

JFK’s Byron Taylor came out firing, hitting three 3-pointers in the first quarter to spark a 13-2 run and a 15-9 first-quarter lead. The Eagles (14-11) stretched their lead to 21-11 early in the second quarter as the Patriots looked frantic and nervous.

It was around that time when 6-foot-6 JFK forward Tyler James picked up his third foul. Considering Cornerstone boasts three starters who go 6-6, 6-5 and 6-3, the Eagles losing their tallest starter and leading rebounder was huge.

Tribune Chronicle / Joe Simon Kennedy’s Byron Taylor, right, looks for an open teammate as he dribbles against Michael Bothwell of Cornerstone Christian on Monday night.

“It put him in a position where he couldn’t be a shot blocker,” Eagles coach Mark Komlanc said. “That hurt us because he’s an enforcer in the paint, and he deters a lot of those inside buckets. That was the turning point in the game.”

The Patriots went from trailing 21-11 with 5 minutes left in the second quarter, to finishing on a 21-9 run and going into halftime with the lead.

The third quarter was more of the same for Cornerstone. The Patriots started the quarter on a 16-4 run and began to show their depth and athleticism. They forced nine turnovers (23 for the game), dominated the boards and had five players score. Cornerstone also shut down Taylor, who had 16 points in the first half but finished with 20.

“We started to face-guard him all over the court,” said Selle of the Patriots’ defense on Taylor in the second half. “He’s a special, special basketball player. If you give that kid any space, he’s going to pull on you, and he makes a high percentage of 3s. … Also, they got in some foul trouble in the first half. To me, when (James) comes out of the game, they don’t have any rim protection, and we got some easy offensive putbacks that we wouldn’t have gotten if he was in the game, so that turned the tempo of the game a little bit.”

While the Eagles trimmed the lead to 11 by the start of the fourth quarter, the Patriots pulled away with depth, rebounding and strong defense. Rebounding may have been the biggest key, along with the stellar play of Michael Bothwell.

Cornerstone held a 40-to-20 advantage in overall rebounding, including 16 offensive rebounds that led to numerous second-chance points. Bothwell scored 17 of his game-high 29 in the first two quarters and finished with 10 rebounds and four assists.

A deep Cornerstone bench was obvious as well, with eight players scoring (and playing full-court press defense) compared to just five scorers for JFK, who lost one of their starters, Hyland Burton, to an injury two weeks ago.

“They’re a great team,” Komlanc said of Cornerstone. “Their kids are great. I’ve got nothing but respect for them. We knocked them out last year, so I know this was something they had marked on their calender just like we did last year. It’ll probably be vice-versa next year, but I feel for our seniors. I just told them how proud I was of them because they’ve grown probably more than any other group I’ve ever coached in 20 years. … These guys proved a lot of people wrong throughout the season.”

Cornerstone plays the winner of today’s Bristol-Windham matchup on Friday.