Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
The North Olmsted Eagles were off to one of their best starts in recent memory. They took a 7-0 record into Saturday night's game with Lakewood and were looking for that streak to continue.
The Rangers, however, were waiting in ambush.
In the first half, Lakewood's aggressiveness on defense and under the boards seemed to catch the Eagles off guard. Then a 25-point outburst in the third quarter put the Rangers in control as they went on to score a 78-61 win over North Olmsted before a large crowd at Harding Middle School gym.
Lakewood, paying special attention defensively to the Eagle duo of Andy Lucien and Matt Starcovic, jumped out to a 6-0 lead. The Rangers held North Olmsted scoreless for the game's first two and a half minutes before Kyle Wapshott broke the ice with a 3-pointer.
"I thought we really made them uncomfortable defensively," said Lakewood head coach Phil Argento, whose team used a variety of defenses to slow down the Eagle attack..
"We started out with something I don't think they were ready for. You don't see those defenses all the time, so we wanted to do something to get them out of their comfort zone," he said.
Down 18-13 after the first eight minutes, the Eagles stayed close and trailed by only four, 30-26, at the half. But the visitors had no answer to what was coming in the third quarter.
Things started well enough for the Eagles as Lucien hot a driving jumper to open the frame. That's when the Lakewood offense, however, shifted into another gear.
Malik Leisinger scored inside, then converted a free throw to jump start the run. Joe Malone scored on a rebound, then Jack Witri nailed a 3-pointer off a fast break to make it 38-28, Rangers, with 6:16 left in the quarter.
North Olmsted called a timeout, but the break did nothing to slow down the Rangers. Malone turned an Eagle turnover into a fast break hoop, then another North Olmsted miscue led to Witri's second trey of the quarter.
Down 43-28, North Olmsted tried to answer with a brief 5-0 run. But a 3-pointer out of the left corner from Wes Gerhardt and another trey soon after from Nick Porter made it 49-32. Two more treys, one each from Gerhardt and Witri, gave Lakewood a 55-43 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
"In warmups, I wasn't actually feeling it," admitted Witri, whose third 3-pointer out of the left corner beat the buzzer.
"I think I only hit one or two in the first half," Witri said. "Then I got hot in the second half, and we just rolled from there. Overall, we moved the ball well on offense, played solid defense and rebounded the ball."
Witri went on to hit three more 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to finish with seven on the night. As a team, Lakewood hit 13 treys, with Porter and Gerhardt each hitting three long-range bombs.
"When they were threatening in the second half, he hit something like two or three in a row," Argento said. "That really gave us space.
"Witri had three and Gerhardt had two, and we scored 25 points in the quarter," Argento said. "We can score in bunches. Some of that came off of our defense because we forced some turnover situations. Good teams, though, will settle back down and come at you. They did that and made another run at us.
"But that's what a good high school game looks like. We made a run, they came back at us and we were able to give them another punch to close it out," he said.
North Olmsted got another trey from Wapshott to close the gap to nine early in the final quarter. But that's a s close as the Eagles would get as Lakewood used a 16-7 run to put the game away. Witri hit back-to-back 3-pointers in the run, and his teammates went five of six from the free throw line in the final 2:28 to help hold off the Eagles.
"We made a couple of mini runs to get it within eight or nine," said North Olmsted head coach Jason Frolo. But you're not going to hold Lakewood down for very long.
"They're going to score on you, especially when they get ahead. You're playing with fire when you play this team, especially if you don't get out on the shooters and don't help on ball screens," he said.
The 6-6 Lucien was held to 13 points and eight rebounds. He was hounded all night by the Lakewood defense.
"I don't think he scored in the second quarter," Argento said. "Then, to his credit, he went outside and ht some shots. He's a good ball player. But when you're a good player, teams will come for you regularly. They'll come after you every night.
"I thought we got a good floor game, for the most part, from Porter and Leisinger. Then Gerhardt found the rim again and made some foul shots. We've got guys who can shoot, and some guys who can get to the rim and score.
"I thought we rebounded with them, and that's usually been a weakness for us. We had some guys getting up in the air, and I was glad to see that," he added.
Lakewood won the rebounding battle, 25-22, with Porter grabbing 11 rebounds. Offensively, Witri led the way with 21 points, followed by Porter with 18 and Gerhardt with 17.
For North Olmsted, Wapshott nailed four 3-pointers and finished with 13 points. Starcovic and Ryan Coleman finished with 11 points each.
"They threw some defenses at us early to try and take away Andy and Matt," Frolo said. " We survived that, but it did take us awhile to get back on our feet. But as poorly as I thought we played in that first half, we still found ourselves within four at halftime.
"They frustrated Andy a lot, and that showed. He had some turnovers and some traveling calls. But this is a good team we played. They can light it up on any given night. Just like that, a four-point game turned into a 15-point game and we're playing catch-up the rest of the second half," he said.
Frolo felt his team may have been caught off guard by Lakewood's aggressiveness.
"I think our guys maybe thought this was just going to be a shootout with no defense being played," Frolo said. "That's not the case with Lakewood. They play hard and they get after it.
"I just felt all night we got outworked on the boards. We didn't listen to our assignments on who the shooters were. We had Witri out there shooting seven threes, and I don't know how close we were to any of them. It was a frustrating night in that aspect," he said.
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Click on the cameras below to view Larry's photos and video highlights from this game: