Ursuline rumbles past Falls to district title game

HOWLAND – It happened so fast, the Newton Falls Tigers barely had time to get the culprit’s number.

The number was 5, and it was on the back of Ursuline Fighting Irish guard Mark Hughes’ jersey. Five was also the number of 3-point shots made by Hughes in the first half on his way to a 30-point night.

As a team the Irish made 10-of-17 3-point shots in the first half and were 12-of-24 for the game. Those numbers told a large part of the story in Ursuline’s 74-44 win in a semifinal of the Division III district tournament Tuesday at Howland High School.

On most nights the nine 3-pointers made by the Tigers might have been enough to produce a victory, but not this night. The Irish built leads of 24-13 after one quarter and 43-23 at the half, led by Hughes with 22 points.

“We thought we had a chance coming in here if they didn’t shoot real well,” Tigers coach Roy Sembach said. “They’re very good drivers and they’re bigger than us. We felt like we had to protect the paint and get out on the shooters and hope they didn’t shoot great. They made everything they put up early, and it didn’t give them a chance to get nervous.”

The second-seeded Irish (16-8) will meet the third-seeded Girard Indians on Friday at 7 p.m. in the district final.

Hughes, a 6-foot-3 junior, looked smooth and relaxed while having his way in the first half. He mixed in a couple of strong drives to the basket to go along with his long-range arsenal.

Irish coach Keith Gunther asks his guards to shoot without hesitation. If they don’t take shots, Gunther will sit them so they have time to think about the chances they didn’t take.

“That lets them relax a little bit knowing you’re not going to get taken out,” Gunther said. “I thought we played well. Mark Hughes was a big-time player. Greg (Parella) hit some big shots, and Dave Collins was a monster around the basket.”

Hughes fed off the Irish’s ballhawk-style defense that forced 12 turnovers in the first half.

“Once you start running and gunning and you start hitting shots, you can get into that rhythm and you feel like you can’t miss,” Hughes said.

Hughes was far from a one-man show. Collins added 20 points and pulled down a game-high 13 rebounds (five offensive), while Parella connected on four 3-point shots in scoring 12 points. The Irish made all 16 of their foul shots.

Jared Walton did his best to try to match Hughes by making four 3-pointers in the first half for the Tigers (14-10). Walton added another shot from beyond the arc in the second half in finishing with 15 points. Ozzie Hawkins worked hard to add 14 points for the Tigers.

“We’ve experienced what they went through tonight,” Sembach said. “We’ve had games where we’ve made 13, 14 or 15 3s. Once it gets going, it gets going. As far as the game was concerned, I thought we had to shoot a high percentage of 3s and them a low percentage.”

The Irish made sure there would be no grand comeback by the Tigers in the second half by scoring 12 of the first 16 points of the third quarter. Ursuline had a 62-31 lead through three quarters.

Gunther was an assistant for Sembach before taking the Ursuline job 10 years ago. He expressed appreciation for all he learned from Sembach.

Sembach’s not sure Gunther needed the help.

“I’m not surprised at how well he’s done as a coach,” Sembach said. “He did coach under me, but he would have been fine no matter what.”