COPLEY — A fadeaway 21-footer from the guy wearing jersey No. 21 ripped out the collective heart of Wadsworth’s boys basketball team.
Guard Kyle Scelza drilled a contested 3-pointer with 2.5 seconds remaining in overtime Wednesday, giving top-seeded Stow a bone-chilling 49-48 victory over the Grizzlies in a Copley Division I District semifinal game.
The Bulldogs (20-2), who scored five straight points over the final 20.9 seconds after blowing a 16-point second-half lead, advance to play Green or Firestone in Saturday’s championship. Wadsworth ends its season 15-7.
“I got it up and it actually felt really good going off (my hand),” Scelza said. “Luckily, it went in.”
With 41.2 seconds left, the Grizzlies took a 48-44 lead on two Josh Kipfer free throws that capped a stunning 28-8 run.
Stow countered with a tough pull-up jumper in the key by point guard David Walker (16 points, 5 assists). Wadsworth’s Tate Moore then threw the inbounds pass along the Stow bench and it was tipped off Kipfer’s leg with 19.1 seconds to go, breathing new life into the Bulldogs.
After a timeout with 13 seconds left, Walker penetrated past the Grizzlies’ Prescott Williams (12 points, 4 assists) before Moore could execute a double team, then kicked to Scelza on the wing.
The junior fell away into his own student section with Moore in his face, hitting nothing but net.
Wadsworth quickly inbounded, but a desperation 70-footer hit the scaffolding above the floor as time expired.
“We kind of broke down, and we had to keep our heads in the game and not let that get away from us,” Scelza said. “We shouldn’t have even been in that situation. We got lucky tonight.”
Making Scelza’s bucket even more heartbreaking for the Grizzlies was the fact guard Chester Foth (11 points, 4-of-4 shooting) missed a steal of Walker’s pass by an eyelash.
“They kept fighting,” Grizzlies coach Mike Schmeltzer Jr. said of his players. “They played like there was no tomorrow, and unfortunately right now there isn’t for us.”
Down 36-20 in the third quarter, Wadsworth brought the score to 40-30 heading into the final period. Stow then inexplicably committed nine turnovers on its first 10 fourth-quarter possessions to fuel an 8-0 Grizzlies run.
Wadsworth tied the game on two free throws by Kipfer (21 points, 11 rebounds) and later took the lead on a jumper by Foth, but Stow’s Ryan Yurkschatt quickly countered in transition with just over three minutes left.
The Grizzlies ran down the final two minutes of regulation, setting up an inbounds with 1.9 seconds left after a runner by Moore was blocked. Guard Tyler Perry took a Moore pass on the wing, drove to the basket and threw in an over-the-shoulder shot off glass, but the screams of joy from the Wadsworth faithful turned immediately to harsh boos when the shot was ruled late.
“I couldn’t tell when the ball left his hand,” Schmeltzer said. “I’m sure (the referees) saw exactly what happened. With the red light (illuminating the backboard), it’s hard to make a mistake on that one.”
After missing its first five shots of the game, Stow stormed back behind the inside play of center Yurkschatt and power forward Mike Garrison, as well as dynamite defense from Walker on Williams, who had to work extra hard to get wiggle room in the half court.
Walker and Scelza then got hot from deep, combining to bury six straight 3-pointers over the second and third quarters. A pair of free throws by Walker gave Stow its biggest lead at 36-20.
That’s when the Bulldogs went to a stall and it backfield loudly, as Wadsworth’s combination of a 1-3-1 press and half-court trap led to a gaggle of uncharacteristic turnovers.
Stow attempted just two shots during an 11:15 span over the fourth quarter and overtime, and went well over six minutes without scoring until Scelza hit two free throws in OT.
The utterly dominating stretch by Wadsworth made the loss that much more devastating, especially considering the Grizzlies had momentarily snatched victory from the jaws of defeat behind an amazing comeback.
“I’m extremely proud of our effort,” Schmeltzer said. “For us to fight back like that and even dominate the overtime, in my opinion, for 3½ minutes, it’s tough. Good teams find a way to win — and we’re a good team — but someone had to walk out of here tonight with a loss.”
The teams combined to shoot 16-of-29 (.552) from the floor after halftime. Wadsworth was 9-of-17, while Stow was 7-of-12. Scelza and Walker also combined to hit nine of their last 10 shots.
• With Wadsworth up 46-44, Williams committed what could have been a potentially crucial charge with 1:10 left, but the Grizzlies survived a wide-open 3-point miss by Scelza at the other end. That set up Kipfer’s free throws to make it 48-44.
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.