Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
When Shawn Hood looks back at Westlake’s 46-41 district semifinal loss to Brecksville, he’ll more than likely blame it on these three things:
Too many missed free throws.
Too many missed shots in the fourth quarter.
Way too much Danilo Radjen.
Radjen, held in check by the Demons through the first three quarters, scored 10 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter and helped the Bees rally for the win in front of a vocal crowd at Midview. The loss ended Westlake’s season at 19-3 and sent 18-4 Brecksville to Saturday night’s Division I district title game.
“Radjen had a big night,” said Hood, whose team made just seven of 16 free throws on the night and went scoreless in the game’s final 2:14.
“I thought we contained all their other guys,” Hood said. “I thought we did a decent job on Tom Tupa and his brother, but we couldn’t get Radjen under control. He didn’t want to stop playing. He put them on his shoulders and carried them.
“There are some nights where you’re guarding a guy, he’s got it going and you can’t stop him. He was terrific in the fourth quarter,” he added.
Westlake, which held the lead throughout most of the game, took a 32-30 lead into the fourth quarter. Radjen, who had been hounded by the Demons’ Ezzat Assad and Danny Strodtbeck for three quarters, broke away and started taking over to start the final eight minutes.
He began the fourth by scoring eight straight points for the Bees, hitting a layup that gave them the lead at 38-37 with 4:15 left in regulation. For the next two minutes, it was a back and forth battle between the two Southwestern Conference co-champions that had fans worked into a fever pitch.
Bryan Mackenzie hit a floater to give the lead back to the Demons, but Tom Tupa scored on a drive of his own with 2:37 left to give the lead back to Brockville, 40-39. After a Westlake timeout, Shawn Turk was fouled on an inbounds play with 2:14 left.
Turk nailed both free throws to give the lead back to the Demons. As it turned out, it would be Westlake’s final lead of the game.
Tupa struck again, hitting a spinning drive to the basket to make it 42-41 with 1:45 left. Westlake misfired on its next trip down the floor, and Brecksville immediately went into its spread offense. Radjen was fouled, then split a pair of free throws for a 43-41 advantage with 1:08 left.
Westlake missed again, with Mark Chrzanowski grabbing the rebound. He was fouled, but could only gain a split in the double bonus with 51.1 seconds left. Another Demon miss was followed by two more Radjen free throws. He split the pair, keeping the Demons close at 44-41 with 22.9 ticks left.
The Demons, however, turned the ball over six seconds later, with Tupa drawing the foul. He could only split a pair of charity tosses, but Westlake then missed a shot with six seconds left. That finished off an 0-for-5 run down the stretch by the Demons that sealed the win for the Bees.
“We had wide open 10-footers and layups, but nothing went in,” Hood said. “It was just one of those nights. Those were shots we made the whole season, shots that you have to make.
“They were packed in there, so they weren’t going to let us get the ball in to Gavin. They were trying to take away our penetration, so those were shots we had to take. They just didn’t go in,” he added.
Skelly was held to two points on the night despite being a force not he boards with 10 rebounds. In fact, no Demon reached double figures, with Turk leading the way with nine points. Assad, MacKenzie and Grant Gase each had six points, but it wasn’t enough to fend off the Bees int he end.
“I’m going to tell you what,” said Brecksville head coach Steve Mehalic. “The last week or so after we saw them play Amherst, I was really regretting going up to that spot in the bracket.
“That’s one helluva basketball team. Defensively, they’re phenomenal, absolutely phenomenal. They take everything away that you want to do, and I’m proud of our guys for matching them defensively tonight,” he said.
Radjen led all scorers with his 15 points, while Chrzanowski had 10 points and 10 rebounds.Tom Tupa had nine points, while his brother, Tim, had eight. Mehalic, though, was quick to point out just how important his point guard had been for the Bees down the stretch.
“Danilo is a special player,” Mehalic said. “In the last eight games, he’s been on a phenomenal roll. A couple of games ago against Avon Lake, we were down and he put the team on his back. He’s really tough to cover with the ball in his hands.
“When he’s got his rhythm going, he tells us what he wants to run offensively and defensively, and we listen to him. That’s when you know you have a good player,” he added.
Brecksville moved on to Saturday night’s district championship game against Elyria. The Pioneers advanced Thursday night with a convincing 64-50 win over Olmsted Falls.
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