Diehl’s awesome night

HOWLAND – There were times when John Diehl wasn’t certain if he would reach the 400-win milestone in his basketball coaching career.

Twenty-nine seasons is enough time for members of the community to come up with plenty of reasons to bring in another coach. Having survived those uprisings, the Howland Tigers girls coach methodically marched his way toward the cherished mark with nine seasons coaching the Bristol boys and 20 with the Tigers.

The crowning moment came Thursday night with a 53-43 win over the Warren G. Harding Raiders on the Tigers’ floor. Diehl wasn’t even sure he’d get number 400 last night because of a determined effort by the Raiders, who had a 10-point lead at the end of the first quarter.

Diehl seemed relieved after the final horn sounded. He was greeted by players carrying a commemorative sign. A plaque was presented to him by athletic director Ron McCleary, who spoke briefly.

“The administrations I’ve worked for have been real good,” said Diehl, who has 12 league titles, five district championships and one regional crown to his credit. “I’ve had people after me to get rid of me in the past here and at Bristol. The administration stood up for me and let me survive.

“My wife letting me do this is very important, too, because it sacrifices a lot of family time over the years. I’ve had great players and great assistants. Everyone wants to coach here with us. Those are the things.”

Diehl couldn’t turn to the administration for help in surviving the Raiders. The Tigers (2-2) needed to reach back for something extra to climb back into the game with a solid second quarter and pull away in the early stages of the fourth period.

“I knew they (the Raiders) would be really pumped, and they always are,” Diehl said. “We pressed them, and I think they got tired. I’ve seen it a hundred times where the underdog – and I don’t know if they were the underdog – comes in all fired up and they get ahead of you. The girls kept their cool and got back into the game.”

The Tigers displayed scoring balance. Gabby Cvengros led the way with 15 points, followed by Lexi Ross with 13. Cvengros played a solid all-around game, adding a team-high 14 rebounds and five blocked shots.

The players felt added pressure knowing Diehl was on the doorstep of win number 400.

“Obviously we’re excited,” Cvengros said. “This is a big night, and because it was Harding it made it that much better. We’ve been looking forward to this game ever since last season. I think this was the perfect game to do it.”

The Raiders (0-3) didn’t play like a team in search of their first win. Maya Bell was a strong inside force, scoring a game-high 20 points and pulling down a game-high 19 rebounds.

“They stepped up and really played,” Raiders coach Frank Caputo said. “In the first couple of games we played two very good teams (in Lakeview and Cleveland Heights) and we struggled a little bit. I think we grew up a lot tonight. I’m very excited to get into Saturday and get into the next one.”

The Tigers, who trailed 19-9 after one period, scored the first 10 points of the second period to tie score. The Raiders regrouped behind Bell and led 26-23 at halftime.

The Tigers edged ahead, 32-30, after three quarters. They pulled away by scoring 16 of the first 18 points of the fourth quarter.

Chelsea Dipaolo added 16 points to Harding’s attack. She made all four of the Raiders’ 3-point shots.

Harding is at Maple Heights Saturday afternoon. Howland plays at Canfield Monday.

Diehl can now begin zeroing in on his 500th win.

“I’m not even thinking about 500,” he said. “I’ve been retired (from teaching) for one year. I don’t know how long I’m going to do this.”