Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
If the final Southwestern Conference boys basketball game at Westlake’s gymnasium had been televised, it would have certainly qualified for ‘instant classic’ status.
Regardless, Friday night’s SWC barn burner between arch-rivals Brecksville and Westlake proved to be one for the ages.
The Demons, playing without leading scorer Gavin Skelly and head coach Shawn Hood, gave the SWC champion Bees all they could handle. And because of that effort, it took an extra four minutes of play for the visitors to leave town with a hard-fought 66-63 overtime win before an enthusiastic packed house at Westlake High.
Brecksville, which wrapped up its third-straight SWC championship and first outright title last week, had its collective hands full with a determined band of Demons. Prior to the game, Westlake found out Skelly and Hood would be unavailable for the game due to an OHSAA rules violation.
But after spotting Brecksville a 21-9 first-quarter lead, the Demons stormed back and nearly notched their biggest win of the season.
Trailing 28-22 at the half, Westlake caught up and took its first lead of the game, 36-35, on a Danny Strodtbeck 3-pointer with 2:31 left in the third quarter. From that point, it was game on as the contest seemingly took more twists and turns than a murder mystery novel.
Brecksville opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer and the followup fast break bucket from senior Matt Csuhran for a 47-41 lead. But moments later, Bees head coach Steve Mehalik was unexplainably issued a technical foul, further stirring up the crowd on both sides of the gym.
As the game moved on, the Demons inched their way back into the game. A baseline drive for two and a free throw by Bryan Mackenzie cut the lead to three and made it 49-46, Bees, as Csuhran picked up his fourth foul.
Two more Mackenzie free throws, then a steal and two more freebies by Makis Beach put Westlake ahead, 50-49, with 4:13 remaining. A Jamie Lackner free throw with 3:22 remaining in regulation had Westlake up three, 53-50.
The quarter went down to the wire, with senior guard Shawn Turk hitting a driving flip in the lane for a 59-57 Demon lead with 33 seconds left. Brecksville senior Matt Chrzanowski, however, hit both ends of a one-and-one with 16.4 ticks to tie the game again at 59-all.
Both teams had a shot to take the lead in the final seconds, with a fall-away jumper on the baseline falling short for the Bees as time expired. But in the first minute of overtime, Csuhran drilled a 3-pointer from the left wing to give the visitors the lead for good.
After Turk and Chrzanowski traded baskets, a pair of Strodtbeck free throws pulled Westlake to within a point, 64-63, with 33.3 ticks left on the clock. But those would be the final points for the Demons as they hit just one of six shots in the overtime.
Tim Tupa closed it out by splitting four free throws in the final 27.7 seconds, allowing the Bees to escape with the win.
“I couldn’t be more proud of what I saw here tonight,” said Westlake assistant coach Dave Fazekas, who served as the head coach in Hood’s absence.
“But I expect that from this group, especially our seniors,” Fazekas said. “I’ve been coaching these guys since third grade, so it was kind of surreal that here we are in the last weekend and I have to step up and coach them in this game.
“I give Brecksville a lot of credit. That’s a phenomenal team. Their seniors and our seniors have been going through this for 10 years, and this is how most of the games have gone. They know each other well.
“Despite some injuries and some adversity, our guys showed they can play no matter who is on the court,” he added.
Westlake’s senior group of Turk, Strodtbeck, Mackenzie, Lackner and role player Tyler Zack all played key roles. Strodtbeck led the Demons with 19 points, including four 3-pointers, while Turk had 18 points and several clutch shots down the stretch.
Mackenzie had 13 points and 10 rebounds, Lackner chipped in with three points and five rebounds, and Zack contributed valuable minutes off the bench, according to Fazekas.
For Brecksville, Tupa led all scorers with 20 points. Chrzanowski and Csuhran added 19 and 18 points, respectively, while leading the Bees on the boards with six rebounds each.
“We told the kids that this is a very good basketball team,” said Mehalik after the game. “Westlake is one of the best defensive teams we face every year.
“They’re physical, they’re strong. We knew some of their guys would step up, and sure enough Shawn Turk did. In defending him the last three years, that was the best game he’s ever played against us. He refused to let them lose.
“A bunch of their guys made some tough, tough shots. We just weathered the storm. Our guys are pretty good too, and they know how to win basketball games,” he added.
As for Skelly and Hood, both were suspended for the team’s two games this weekend, Friday night against Brecksville and Saturday night’s final home game with Lorain.
According to Westlake athletic director Tony Cipollone, Skelly was deemed to have broken an OHSAA participation rule.
“Upon direction from the OHSAA concerning what course of action we should take, we issued a self-imposed suspension for both Gavin and Coach Hood,” Cippilone said.
“That suspension is pending further review from the OHSAA. We should have a final judgement sometime early next week,” he added.
Saturday night’s game with Lorain will be the final boys game played in the Westlake gym. Games will be played next year at the new high school facility, which is currently under construction and is expected to be ready for the 2013-14 season.