Big Red captures Round 1

STEUBENVILLE – When the going got tough inside The Crimson Center Saturday night, Big Red’s seniors got going.

Chris Smith sparked a third quarter spurt then Brandon Herring-Hill and Adam Sterling took over in the fourth as Big Red pulled away from Catholic Central to earn a 66-54 victory in Round 1 of the annual city championship series.

Down 14-4 after one and 26-24 at the break, the Crusaders grabbed their first lead of the game (33-32) midway through the third thanks to a Michael Barber floater. Lucas Herrington drained a triple to put the Red back on top and Central’s Michael Manfresca went one for two from the stripe to make it 35-34.

Chris Smith scored from the paint then fed Devin Smith for another deuce and Mike Haney’s club (5-2) was off and running. Another Chris Smith bucket gave the hosts a 44-36 advantage heading into the final eight minutes.

Herring-Hill, who was plagued by foul trouble and sat out most of the third, got six quick ones to start the fourth. Sterling had eight (his final four came via rim-rattling dunks in transition) as Big Red outscored the Crusaders 22-18 to seal the deal.

“Chris did a great job for us,” Haney stated. “He plays the post a lot for us. In the third quarter when we had three starters on the bench, he was the guy bringing the ball up. He took it to the basket and had some nice passes. He’s a veteran leader for us and overall, he played a great game.”

Chris Smith, who scored 17 in Friday’s win over Martins Ferry, took game scoring honors with 18. He had eight in the second stanza and finished the night nine for 12 from the floor. He also grabbed seven rebounds.

Herring-Hill finished with 14 and Sterling 10 (he hauled down nine rebounds and blocked three shots).

“It’s great to see our seniors have success,” Haney continued. “They are good kids and positive team leaders. They’ve put in a lot of work all the way through.”

Big Red hit six of its 11 first-quarter shots to grab the 14-4 lead. Central (6-3), on the other hand, was just one for seven from the floor and make one of four free throws.

Sean Tucker’s Crusaders got it going in the second, canning six of 12 attempts (four came from behind the arc). Matt Martello drilled two triples while Brenton Colabella and Ryan Fletcher also connected from downtown.

“We knew Central would fight back,” Haney pointed out. “That’s a tough, veteran team. We played great defense in the first quarter but in the second, we let them back in. We talked to our guys about dumb fouls in the backcourt.

“They got into the one and one early (Central went four for six from the line in the quarter) and we know they are a good shooting team. Then Martello hits two big threes to cut our lead.”

A conventional three-point play by Colabella followed by a Fletcher deuce cut Big Red’s lead to 32-31. Michael Barber capped the 7-0 Crusader run and put his team ahead.

“When you talk about going 110 percent, we didn’t do it,” Tucker stated. “We didn’t have five guys on the floor tonight all going 110 percent. That’s what we have to do in order to be successful.

“And we have to make our free throws (Central finished the night 11 for 19 from the line). We have to be able to capitalize. When you take the lead on Big Red, you have to play smart. We didn’t do that.”

For the night, Big Red canned 27 of 46 field goal tries. The winners were 16 for 26 in the second half.

“In the second half, we stressed going to the basket,” Haney noted. “We thought we settled for too many outside shots early. When you are shooting inside the paint, your percentage goes up. We had a couple of transition baskets and that allowed us to get on a little roll.”

Four Crusaders reached double digits in the loss. Fletcher led the way with 16. Michael Barber, Colabella and Martello all had 10. Fletcher pulled down seven rebounds.

“We had a good read on Big Red, but we didn’t execute 50 percent of our scout plan,” Tucker stated. “We allowed them to play to their strengths and we knew their strengths. We didn’t make them play to their weaknesses.

“Don’t take anything away from them. That’s a very good Big Red team. Mike is going an excellent job with them and they are going to win a lot of games. Our focus has to be sticking to our game plan and following through.”

Big Red is scheduled to visit Weir Tuesday, weather permitting. Haney’s crew will play at Indian Creek on Wednesday.

“This is always a big game,” Haney said of the city championship series. “There was a great crowd and an outstanding environment. I tell our guys all the time they are going to see those guys 20 years from now and they’ll all remember the score and who won.”

The Crusaders visit Toronto Wednesday.