Tale of two halves

STRUTHERS – It had been in the local newspapers. It was listed in the tournament program. It was posted on the OHSAA website.

Tip-off time Tuesday at the Struthers Fieldhouse was set for 7 p.m.

“I think the guys thought we didn’t have to start until 8,” Lowellville coach Mike Mangine said. “Normal starting time is 7:30, quarter to eight and we just weren’t ready to play.”

McDonald was. After one quarter of the Division IV district semifinal, the scoreboard read: McDonald 28, Lowellville 2.

A quarter like that leads to some questions: Will the Blue Devils reach 100? Will the starters get enough time to be ready for the district championship game?

The one thought that could not have entered many minds is: Will the outcome still be in doubt in the final quarter? But it was. The Rockets were at the foul line trailing by five with 37 seconds remaining but could get no closer as McDonald survived what once appeared to be a runaway win, 75-67.

“Pray a lot,” said McDonald coach Jeff Rasile about his strategy in the waning moments.

Those prayers might have been a little louder when Ken Greaver fouled out with 2:18 remaining in the game. Lowellville’s Paolo DePasquale sank two foul shots immediately after to get his team within 70-65.

Greaver would have been a fantasy-basketball stud on this night, finishing with 24 points, 17 rebounds and 11 blocked shots. With him off the floor the third-seeded Rockets (18-5) appeared poised for the comeback of all comebacks, particularly when McDonald’s Jake Reckard missed two foul shots after DePasquale hit his. But a missed 3-pointer and front end of a one-and-one enabled the No. 2 seed to escape.

Sophomore post Cole Beatty, who came off the bench to finish with six points and 11 rebounds, missed the critical foul shot.

“Cole played a great fourth quarter when we had him in there against Greaver,” Mangine said. “He played great defense on him. Cole usually makes those foul shots. We thought, up until that point, if he makes them we’re still going to win the ballgame.”

No one could have thought that early on. McDonald made 11 of 17 field goals in the opening quarter and scored the final 23 points of the frame. Matt Seitz had 12 points and four rebounds in the quarter and Greaver pulled down six boards.

The teams raced up and down the court throughout the second stanza. Senior Nick Ballone had 13 points for the Rockets while Greaver countered with 10 points and four reboundsi n the period. The Devils reached intermission with a seemingly comfortable 51-24 advantage.

“Sometimes, I think, when you jump out to that big lead your mindset is different,” Rasile said. “Actually, we scored in the second quarter. We didn’t play defense. We gave up (22) points. If we play defense in the second quarter we have them on the ropes.”

Instead the Rockets came out swinging. Leading the charge was Ballone, who scored 12 more in the third quarter. He amassed a game-high 32 points, and Lowellville cut the deficit to 59-44 heading to the final eight minutes.

“We couldn’t score (in the second half),” Rasile said. “Ballone is a good player and he did what he had to do to get his team back in the game.”

“We rushed a little bit, took some bad shots, and they just came out hot,” Greaver said. “We knew we had to keep playing hard. You know they’re not going to lay down. This is the last game for their seniors.”

Lowellville began the final quarter with a 12-4 run. After Beatty’s missed foul shot, Anthony Pugh made two foul shots to give McDonald a 72-65 lead. Beatty’s layup after an offensive rebound made it 72-67 with 18 ticks remaining. Seitz’ two foul shots 2 seconds later iced the contest.

Seitz finished with 21 points and 12 boards for the winners while Pugh had 15 points and four assists. DePasquale had 17 points, 12 rebounds and four steals in a losing effort.

According to Rasile, Greaver has several triple-doubles in his career. The senior said those are not important to him.

“No. I just go out and play. As long as we win that’s all that matters to me,” Greaver said.

The Blue Devils (21-3) meet No.4 St. Thomas Aquinas for the district title Friday at 7. The Knights (14-11) have won their three playoff games by an average of 51 points.