One step from state

CANTON – Until Thursday night the Creston Norwayne Bobcats hadn’t yielded more than 36 points in any of their four tournament wins.

It took the Ursuline Fighting Irish all of 16 minutes to reach the 36-point mark in a Division III regional semifinal.

You might have an idea where this is going. The Irish proved too powerful on the offensive end, and their play on the defensive end was solid most of the game as they pulled away to a 74-56 win at the Canton Memorial Field House.

“I said if we were in the 70s, I thought we would win and if we were in the 50s, we’d have a tough time of beating them,” Irish coach Keith Gunther said. “For a while there the game was staying close to the 50s. Then we were able to start getting Mark (Hughes) going and we hit a couple 3s and we got the tempo to where we wanted to.”

The Irish (18-8) advance to Saturday’s final to meet Villa Angela-St. Joseph. Tip off is at 7 p.m.

Hughes is a junior, but he played with the confidence of a senior leader in scoring a game-high 27 points. He made four 3-point shots and was 9 of 10 at the foul line.

Hughes is a two-way threat capable of lighting it up from beyond the 3-point arc or using a lethal first step to drive by defenders. His play at the end of the second quarter and early in the third had to be demoralizing to the Bobcats (23-4). With the clock ticking down late in the first half, Hughes made a fadeaway jumper to give the Irish a 36-26 halftime lead. He then opened the second half with a patented drive to the basket for two of his 10 points in the third quarter.

“I was struggling a little bit in the beginning,” Hughes said. “They kept telling me to keep shooting it. I made a couple of big plays going into half and coming out.”

The Bobcats fought an uphill battle from the start, trailing 13-11 after one quarter and 54-44 after three periods. Ursuline’s largest lead was 46-30 following a 3-point shot by Hughes.

The Irish took advantage of foul trouble encountered by Bobcats senior Zack Weinman in the first half. On the defensive end Ursuline collapsed on the wings to make it difficult for Norwayne to get the ball inside.

“We told our kids if their guards can’t see the post, then they can’t get it to them,” Gunther said. “That was the reason why we were trying to swarm them. Those guys are big, and it would have been hard for us to front them and get around them. What we did was try to take the passing lane away from them and trap the guards.”

The Bobcats got as close as seven points, 63-56, in the fourth quarter, but the Irish always had an answer.

“We controlled the pace real well,” Hughes said. “It turned out to our favor. We got it going up tempo and it showed that they were really winded going into the fourth.”

David Collins added 14 points to Ursuline’s scoring. Greg Parella had 12 and Paul Jackson scored 10 points and grabbed eight rebounds.

The 6-foot-6 Jackson played a strong inside game.

“Coach Gunther had us working hard in practice all week,” Jackson said. “Get outside and contest them on their shots and crash the boards. My job is to get the rebounds and box out.”

Justin Prentiss had a team-high 15 points for Norwayne. Tyson Stoudmire added 12, Joe Dreher scored 11 and Trent Davis finished with 10.