WADSWORTH — Experience won out.
The Wadsworth boys basketball team fought valiantly in the debut of its new gymnasium, but withered under the bright lights when it mattered most as Firestone took an action-packed 76-72 non-league victory Friday.
Down 73-72 with one minute remaining, the Grizzlies (0-1) closed with three missed free throws, three consecutive turnovers and three bricks, including an inconsequential layup as time expired.
“We had a chance to win,” Wadsworth coach Mike Schmeltzer Jr. said. “It gets chaotic there, but we have to take care of the ball down the stretch.”
Clawing its way back into contention with a 16-0 run in the third quarter, Wadsworth traded back-and-forth blows with the reigning Copley Division I District runner-up Falcons (1-0) until Anthony Palecek (8 points, 5 assists) drilled a 3-pointer to give the Grizzlies a
Firestone, which received 51 combined points from Nebraska football recruit Kevin Gladney (26) and Jerome Lane (25, 10 rebounds, 5 blocks) — the son of the former St. Vincent-St. Mary and Pittsburgh star of the same name — countered quickly with a 7-0 run.
Wadsworth’s Austin White (team-high 13 points) brought the score to 73-72 with a pair of free throws, but that’s when the Grizzlies’ wheels fell off.
Nate Pound (10 points, 8 rebounds) missed two free throws with 1:01 left and clanked the front end of a one-and-one 6 seconds later following a steal by Barry Fernholz (12 points).
Fernholz, White and Pound then had turnovers that led to three Firestone points — highlighted by a Lane two-handed dunk — and Patrick Long missed two straight 3-pointers before Kyle Prunty (10 points) short-armed a layup as time expired.
“The thing we’ve got to do a better job of — it wasn’t turnovers in the backcourt or not taking the ball to the hoop strong — are the simple passes from guard to wing,” Schmeltzer said. “We were taking those things for granted and assuming they were going to give them to us. They were aggressive in the half court, and we had too many turnovers in the half court.”
The loss put a damper on an otherwise very respectable debut for the Grizzlies, who were playing with just one returning starter (Prunty) and one senior (Pound) who played consistent minutes.
Wadsworth, which dictated a faster pace in spurts and kept Firestone off-balance, was incredibly versatile offensively. White, Pound, Fernholz and Prunty each hit for 10 or more points, and six different players scored during the 16-0 run that gave the Grizzlies the lead in the third quarter.
Three-point shooting was also a strong suit with a 9-of-22 performance as Wadsworth scored 70 points for the first time in 25 games.
In Schmeltzer’s eyes, those are the positives to build on despite the second-half turnovers (13) — many were due to soft passes — and poor free throw shooting (7-of-16) overall.
“Our kids should be confident because we shoot a ton of game shots every day in practice,” Schmeltzer said. “The one thing I’m most please of is I don’t really think we forced up a bad shot tonight.
“I’m proud of the way we played. There were a lot of question marks coming into this year. We scored 72 points tonight, so there are some definite positives. On the other hand, we gave up 76, which is a lot for us.”