Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
Somehow, some way, high school hoops history was going to be made Saturday night at the Grafton Division I district championship game.
It took nearly all of the game’s 32 minutes, but in the end it was Brecksville that made the night one for the record books.
The Bees, looking to win their first boys district basketball championship in 33 years, did just that with a hard-fought 58-53 win over Westlake. The Southwestern Conference champions advanced to the Sweet 16 and a regional semifinal matchup with Nordonia Wednesday night in Akron.
“Thirty three years...That’s a long time,” said Brecksville head coach Steve Mehalic as his team prepared to cut down the nets.
“We got some emails from some of our former players like Eric Musselman and other guys who were part of the last one,” Mehalic said. “It’s been a long time, but that’s why it feels so good right now.
“And that’s a heck of a basetball team over there,” he said, nodding toward the departing Westlake players. “They’re so well-coached and so physical. We knew it was going to be a battle. We don’t have anything but battles with that team.
“I’m not going to lie. I was nervous. To have to beat a team like that three times in one year, you figure sooner or later they’re going to win. They played well enough to win tonight, we just made one more shot than they did, I think,” he added.
Westlake, which was looking for just its second-ever district championship, had the Bees on the ropes a number of times throughout the game. The Demons, however, could never land the knockout punch.
In the second quarter, the Demons led 23-17 as senior guard Shawn Turk made back-to-back 3-pointers. But Brecksville scored the final eight points of the half, with Paul Karthan’s trey out of the corner giving Brecksville a 25-23 halftime advantage.
In the third quarter, Westlake had the lead twice, only to see Brecksville bounce back each time.
A Jamie Lackner jumper gave Westlake a 33-29 lead, but the Bees regained the lead on six-straight points from Mark Chrzanowski. With 1:31 left in the quarter, a Lackner back-down and layin had Westlake up 39-35. But a 3-pointer from freshman Tyler Tupa and another from Chrzanowski that bounced off the rim three times before falling in gave Brecksville a 41-39 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
“Chrzanowski didn’t score much in the first half,” said Westlake head coach Shawn Hood. “So things were looking pretty good for us when when a player of that magnitude doesn’t score.
“But then he had a great third quarter. He really gave them some life, gave them some energy. Then it got tough,” he added.
In the fourth, the game was tied twice at 45-45 and 50-50 as the crowd participation intensified. Lackner, who scored nine of his 11 points in the second half, hit a 3-pointer to knot the score at 50 with 2:24 remaining.
A Chrzanowski rebound for two and a pair of free throws from Tim Tupa, however, gave the Bees a lead they would never relinquish. Turk drained his third trey of the game to draw the Demons back to within one with 50 seconds left. But Brecksville closed out the game at the free throw line as Matt Csuhran and Jon Balhorn each nailed both ends of their bonus opportunities.
“Tyler Tupa had two huge threes for us, and Balhorn had some big shots too,” Mehalic said. “And Chrzanowski had 15 in the second half. He’s our stud. I think people know now that he’s pretty darn good.
“And we had some other guys, like Mike Tyler, come in and play some big minutes for us when we had guys in foul trouble. Mark and Matt are our inside guys, and Mark was giving up four or five inches to Gavin Skelly out there.
“But he’s smart, and he knows how to score. We needed every point, though, because every time we were getting ready to pull away, Lackner hits a three, Turk hits a three. That team just kept coming at us. They’re to be commended,” he added.
Chrzanowski and Csuhran each scored 15 points to lead the Bees, while Tim and Tyler Tuppa added 13 and eight points, respectively. Brecksville shot 42 percent from 3-point range, making 10 of 24 shots from the arc.
Turk had 14 points to lead Westlake, while Skelly added nine points. Seniors Bryan Mackenzie and Danny Strodtbeck each chipped in with eight points, while Mackenzie led the Demons in rebounding with six.
“I thought we answered every call, but we just fell short at the end,” Hood said.
“We played well enough to win. But we came up short, and that’s the way it goes. Brecksville’s a well-coached team with terrific players, so they had something to do with us coming up short. We did everything we could do.
“Tonight, it really didn’t look like anybody was going to pull away from the other team. It was going to come down to the wire, and they made a few more baskets than we did at the end,” he added.
Brecksville takes the court at the University of Akron’s Rhodes Arena Wednesday night at 7 p.m. The Bees will take on Nordonia, which scored a 66-48 winner over Hudson to win the Copley District crown. A win would put Brecksville in the regional title game Saturday at 7 p.m. at the University of Toledo’s Savage Arena.