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No. 1 vs. No. 1

Top-seeded Devils push D-II district leader Struthers

Staff photo / Brian Yauger Miles Culp of McDonald makes a push toward the basket during the second half of Friday’s game. Culp led the Blue Devils with 24 points.

STRUTHERS — With the tournament looming, the Struthers boys basketball team ended its regular season on a high note, closing out the first part of the season with an unblemished 21-0 record.

McDonald didn’t make it easy, however. The Blue Devils played close for the majority of the contest, but by the end it was too much as the Wildcats outlasted McDonald, 92-71.

“Oh man, they’re good,” first-year Blue Devils coach James Franceschelli said about the Wildcats. “They’re well-coached, (Struthers coach Michael) Wernicki does an unbelievable job. They’re a special team, man. For us to be there for three and a half quarters, right there, that’s a credit to our guys for being prepared tonight.”

Deep balls were a common theme in the game, with the teams combining for 27 3-pointers. Trey Metzka, who had a game-high 32 points, hit five for the Wildcats.

“When a team makes 16 3s, it’s hard to pull away from a team when they’re shooting the ball like that,” Wernicki said.

Eli Street was a big part of McDonald’s success from deep, finishing the game with 22 points, all but one of those coming from behind the arc.

Despite the score, Franceschelli was pleased with how the game ended. Until the midpoint of the third quarter, McDonald was within a basket or two for nearly the entire contest. As the game went on, the Wildcats just began to pull away.

It was a homecoming game for Franceschelli who returned to his home court in opposition colors for the first time in his life.

“For 37 years, I’ve always been on the home side, so this was an emotional night for me and my family to come back here and be on the other side,” Franceschelli said. “But it wasn’t about me tonight, it was about these guys on the floor. The way they played, both teams, it couldn’t have been any better. I know we lost by 20, but I don’t feel like this was a 20-point game at all.”

Going into the tournament, both teams picked up valuable lessons in playing each other.

“We played a really good team and we had to overcome some adversity to get that win,” Wernicki said. “That team is very well-coached and you saw it, they shoot the heck out of the basketball and they put so much pressure on your defense and you never feel like you can pull away.

“It was a great, great game to play to go into the tournament with, because we had to play with some adversity and we had to overcome some things. Our bench had to come up and give us some help.”

The top-seeded Blue Devils (20-2) open their Division IV tournament run with Bloomfield on Tuesday and with a win, will advance to face Ashtabula St. John in a sectional bracket final.

Struthers, also top-seeded in Division II, opens the tournament with Northeast-8 rival Niles on Tuesday.

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