Title town

Girard honors hoops state champs; then Indians edge Howland, 54-52

Tribune Chronicle / Joe Simon Adam Connelly of Girard protects the ball against Howland’s defense Friday night during the Indians’ 54-52 win over the Tigers in the boys basketball season opener for both teams.

GIRARD — There seemed to be a little magic in the air Friday at Girard High School.

How else does one explain having a reunion for the 1993 state championship basketball team — set up one year in advance — the day before the football team competes for its first state title?

A packed gymnasium was on hand to send the football team off to Canton to take on Cincinnati Wyoming in the Division IV title game tonight and to greet some legends of the past.

Oh, and there was a pretty good basketball game taking place as well. It only made sense that a kid nicknamed “the wizard” made the winning play.

Girard’s Austin Claussell finished a difficult lay-up along the baseline with 5 seconds remaining to hold off Howland, 54-52, in a season opener that felt more like a playoff game.

Tribune Chronicle / Joe Simon Members of the 1993 Girard High School state championship basketball team were honored Friday night, one night before the Indians’ football team plays for a state title in Canton.

“We weren’t sure how that environment would help or hurt,” said Girard coach Craig Hannon, who was without two or three varsity players because they play on the football team. “I don’t really think it was either. It was just special. It felt like a tournament environment for the first game.”

Claussell made sure everyone went home happy.

Howland rallied from a 10-point, third-quarter deficit and tied it at 52 when Cam Durig hit his second free throw with 46 seconds left to play. Girard tried to run a set play, but a surprise zone-trap defense from Howland caused the Indians to adjust.

The ball ended up in Claussell’s hands as he stood behind the 3-point arc by the baseline. He faked a 3 and drove to the hoop before leaping from behind the basket and finishing an up-and-under move with a finger roll.

“I saw the baseline wide open, so I took it,” said Claussell, who finished with 14 points. “I had to do the reverse lay-up.”

Tribune Chronicle / Joe Simon Jordan Sperling (3) of Howland dribbles the ball against Girard’s Austin Claussell Friday night.

Hannon said while the degree of difficulty seemed high to spectators, Claussell finishes those drives with relative ease.

“They call me the wizard for a reason,” Claussell said with a smile.

The Tigers looked down and out more than once, but they never allowed Girard to pull away.

They trailed 50-41 with 4:40 left in the fourth quarter but then went on an 11-2 run to tie it. Nathan Barrett scored a team-high 15 points, but the post player’s 3-pointer fell short at the buzzer.

He mishandled a long inbounds pass but corralled it as he reached the top of the key. He had a decent look, but he was off-balance as he fired up what would have been a game-winner.

Tribune Chronicle / Joe Simon Girard’s Adam Connelly (1) applies defensive pressure against Cameron Durig of Howland Friday night in the Indians’ 54-52 win at home.

Coach Dan Bubon was pleased with the effort of a team that brought back just one starter from a year ago, nonetheless.

“I was thrilled with our defense the last 5 minutes,” he said. “That’s what we’ve been trying to get out of this group the whole preseason. That’s the first time they really, with intensity, got up and guarded their man and went at it. That was real, real positive. I wish it would’ve happened earlier, but if I take away anything positive from this game, that would be the thing.”

Girard saw some positives as well.

The main one — besides Claussell’s lay-up — was the play of Austin O’Hara. The senior missed most of last year with an injured hand, playing in only five games, but he led all scorers with 24 points and carried the Indians in the second and third quarters, scoring 18 points in the middle frames.

With the Howland defense fixated on him in the final minutes, Claussell, a returning starter, took the reins.

“(Howland) came out and trapped,” Hannon said. “I have experienced guards, and they kind of know where to go. For Austin Claussell, that shot’s pretty normal. Believe it or not, he makes those a ton. He got to a good spot and threw it in.”

The Indians honored the 1993 team at halftime, showing a highlight video of the championship game. The nine players who were able to make the trip walked out to to half court with coach Bob Krizancic, now the head coach at Mentor.

After Claussell’s wizardry, the football team was called onto the court and another highlight video showcased their season. A send-off outside the high school capped an exciting day in the city.

“It was amazing,” said Claussell before being asked for a prediction for tonight’s game. “A ‘W.'”

It’s hard to doubt a wizard.