WESTLAKE — Buckeye boys basketball coach Matt Saunders warned his team all week.
Yes, Elyria Catholic had only three wins, but Saunders knew the Panthers were big and physical.
When the smoke cleared Tuesday, the Panthers had eliminated the Bucks 58-53 in the opening round of the Westlake Division II Sectional.
EC will play Rocky River for a sectional title Friday, while the Bucks finished 10-11.
“My kids played hard,” EC coach Phil Kucta said. “They play with a lot of guts and a lot of pride. We talked about it on Sunday being a new season. There are 12 teams in this tournament and they had us as No. 11. We talked about that.”
Buckeye seemed to have things in hand in the third quarter when center Brendan Scott hit from the right wing to put the Bucks up nine. After an EC basket, Bill Doerge pulled up in the lane for a basket to make it 34-25 with 4:40 left in the period.
“That stretch in the third we played pretty well,” Saunders said. “For whatever reason, we hit a wall there. We had some fouls and let them get to the free throw line. Offensively, we missed a couple looks, had a couple turnovers. Nine (points) can turn awful quick when those things happen.”
EC closed the quarter on a 7-0 run to cut the margin to 34-32 and kept it tied through the first half of the final period before pulling away at the line. For the night, the Panthers got to the line 28 times and cashed 17 into points, including 10-of-15 in the final quarter.
Inside, EC freshman Jeremy Holley came off the bench for 22 points and five rebounds to negate Buckeye’s uncanny shooting. The Bucks missed only 11 shots all night, with Nick Wilson leading the way with 16 points on a perfect 4-for-4, including three 3-pointers. Doerge and Scott each scored a dozen.
“We didn’t do a very good job defensively,” Saunders said. “We gave up — I don’t know what it was — points in the paint. And from the foul line. It’s pretty much where (Elyria Catholic) was all day. You can’t win when you give up easy buckets like that.”
Contact Tim Gebhardt at (440) 329-7136 or firstname.lastname@example.org.