JFK routs Maplewood in D-IV
WARREN — Mark Komlanc was alone in the Gillen Gymnasium, picking up the remnants after a 72-21 victory over Maplewood in a Division IV sectional first-round game.
The John F. Kennedy coach has been there most nights in the eerie silence, reflecting in the aftermath. Most of the season, it was nothing like Tuesday’s victory, with the roles reversed in the North Coast League. The Eagles’ demanding schedule included the likes of Akron Hoban, which made Division IV seem like a distant planet seen through a telescope.
“What we’re used to is flying around,” said Komlanc, whose team is 7-15. “We were on the other end of that all season. We talked about that afterward and they recognized the pace of play. I think they see the potential is there. We have to make sure we’re locked in. We have two days to focus. Go home and rest tonight.”
It’s another Northeastern Athletic Conference team these seventh-seeded Eagles face Friday in second-seeded Bristol (18-4) in a sectional bracket final in the Division IV Orwell District.
“We have one of the best teams in the state in Division IV,” said Komlanc, whose team plays a Bristol team ranked sixth in the final state poll. “Coach (Craig) Giesy does a wonderful job. It unfortunately has to be there. I wish it were at a neutral site. It’s a great atmosphere. They bring a lot of energy. We’ll be ready for that. Our guys are definitely looking forward to that. I know Bristol is too.”
Tenth-seeded Maplewood (3-19) is far from the team which was a step away from a regional title appearance in 2010, almost beating the former St. Peter Chanel in overtime.
On Tuesday, the Rockets tied Kennedy at 2 with 4:52 left in the first quarter on Conner Steffens’ bucket. The Eagles soared and outscored Maplewood 18-2 the rest of the quarter. It was never close from that point on as the Rockets were 7-of-37 from the floor, led by senior Hunter Bates with 10 points in his final game in a Rockets uniform.
It’s young team and a reclamation project for this Rockets program for Matt Urchek and his staff made up mainly of family members. This is Urchek’s second time around at Maplewood, coaching that regional team back in 2010.
“They’re better than us anytime, anyhow,” Urchek said after Tuesday’s loss. “My kids didn’t come to play, and they quit at halftime. That’s kind of been our season. We’ve had spurts where we’ve played pretty well.
“We’ve got a really long way to go in this program to come back and try and build it up.”
Komlanc said this Maplewood team did make strides from earlier in the season. He knows building culture doesn’t happen overnight. Playing younger players, which is a bulk of the Rockets’ lineup, will help this team in years to come. Being an aggressive club bodes well for them as well.
“I feel for coach, but he’s doing a great job over there,” said Komlanc, whose team shot 25-of-59 from the floor Tuesday. “You take your lumps and in the long run. I just hope they give him the chance.”
Kennedy, which was a game away from the Division IV state final four in 2017, has been a formidable foe in the Division IV sectional. This year, the Eagles have one returning letterwinner in Gianni Eaton. He had nine points.
Jody Hayes and Seijohn Couto each had 13 points. Sophomore post Cameron Hollobaugh led the Eagles with 18 points and 11 rebounds.
Being tested all season against superior competition helped Hollobaugh prepare for this district.
“He’s a dirty man that works his butt off and gets a lot of rebounds,” said Komlanc, whose team outrebounded Maplewood 43-18. “He’s still done it against that (upper-level) competition, but he struggled to finish. I saw him smile for the first time in a while, which was nice.”
It wasn’t nice for Maplewood, but the Rockets know full well better days are ahead.
“We knew it was going to take a while,” Urchek said. “We started in the younger programs. It’s going to be a couple of years and we knew that coming in. You’ve got to start somewhere.”
For Kennedy, preparing for Bristol starts today. There will be no district semifinal this year if the Eagles are not ready for the Panthers on Friday.
“If we don’t come ready to play, come locked in and focused, we’re going to be on the wrong end of it,” Komlanc said. “They can enjoy this tonight, but not any more than that.”
That calming silence inside JFK’s gym is not something these Eagles want after returning home from Bristol Friday night.