Malvern ends Crusaders’ season

NEW PHILADELPHIA – Malvern’s height and nifty outside shooting were too much for Catholic Central to handle in Saturday’s Division IV sectional championship game.

Down a point after one, the Hornets broke things open with a 10-0 second-stanza scoring burst and cruised to a 69-49 victory over the Crusaders.

The win sends Dennis Tucci’s 18-6 club into Tuesday’s one-game district tournament at New Philadelphia High School opposite Berlin Hiland. Central, which went 12-10 a season ago, ends its campaign with an outstanding 17-7 mark.

“We knew we had to play 32 minutes of our basketball, not 24 or 28 but 32 to beat Malvern,” Central’s Sean Tucker said. “We had to have nothing less. They are an experienced team, well-coached and they’ve been in a lot of big games this season. I have a load of respect for their program.

“We had a good start but we got off our assignments in the second quarter. We fell back some and made a couple of bad decisions.”

Central appeared ready to give the second-seeded Hornets all they wanted early, scoring the game’s first four points on solid drives to the hoop by Zach Herrington and Brenton Colabella. A putback by Mitch Loomis and a Nick Mohr jumper quickly knotted the score.

Ryan Fletcher drained a pair from the line and Herrington scored again, this time on an up-and-under move, to make it 8-4. Herrington later banked home a triple and the Crusaders led 11-5.

Malvern closed fast and Central was clinging to a 15-14 advantage heading into the second. Herrington finished the first with seven markers and Fletcher four, two coming when he went coast-to-coast after grabbing a rebound.

The Crusaders, who shot 68 percent from the floor in Wednesday’s tournament win over Strasburg, went six for 11 during the quarter.

Trey Tucci gave Malvern its first lead (16-15) when he canned a jumper to begin the second. Michael Barber responded by draining a triple, giving Central its final advantage of the game. The Hornets took control from there, running off 10 in a row.

Max Kapron, the district player of the year, scored four straight before Mohr, a 6-2 senior guard, went wild. He knocked two outside jumpers and got an easy deuce following a steal. With 2:47 left in the period, Malvern was up 26-18. Mohr accounted for his team’s final nine points of the half (he got the final when he connected from behind the arc). A Colabella bucket made it 29-22 Malvern at the half.

The Hornets, who shot a blazing 25 of 39 from the floor (64 percent) outscored the Crusaders 40-27 in the second half.

Four Malvern players recorded all but two of the 69 markers. Loomis, a 6-6 sophomore, and Kapron, a 6-5 senior, used their size to combine for 37. All of Loomis’ eight field goals came from the paint. He also nailed three of five free throw attempts. Kapron was limited to four field goals but got to the line 12 times, swishing 10.

Tucci, a 6-3 junior, shared team scoring honors with Loomis (they both had 19). He connected three times from behind the arc. Mohr added 11.

The taller Hornets, who also ended Central’s season a year ago, won the rebounding battle 27-18. Loomis grabbed nine.

Fletcher, a second team all-district pick, was Central’s top scorer with 18. He delivered four three-pointers. Herrington, who earned first team district honors, capped his CCHS career by scoring 12. He also dished out three assists and had two blocks.

Colabella added six points and collected five rebounds to pace the Crusaders.

“We were a little sluggish coming off the bench today and that hurt,” Tucker noted. “Our bench has been hot and cold all season. We needed a strong bench coming into this game and unfortunately, it wasn’t.

“Our juniors (Central started three juniors and its top three subs also are 11th graders) now need to realize it is their time now.”

After a solid first quarter shooting performance, Central struggled the rest of the game and finished just 17 of 42.

Tucker noted his seniors (Herrington, Michael Carapellotti and Steve Kotur) “did a great job all year when it came to leadership.”

“They are three kids that showed the true meaning of what seniors stand for,” he said. “I would gladly have them represent me in anything. They fought through adversity and found a way to bring everything together. I hope our juniors learn from them because they offer so much.”

Tucker also applauded his entire squad for the progress made this season.

“We set goals at the beginning of the year and we may not have reached them but that’s OK,” he added. “The maturity and strength of our kids really increased this season. The success of our team cannot be measured by the loss today.

“These kids have matured as men and I can’t be more proud of them. If I have to choose between maturity and winning an OVAC championship or a sectional title, I’ll pick maturity.”