WESTFIELD TWP. — They were lights out in pregame and lights out in the fourth quarter.
The members of the Cloverleaf boys basketball team were driven by visions Friday, and their 31-game Suburban League losing streak is history because of it.
Led by the three-pronged attack of Robby Buckwald, Adam Podolak and Cliff Collyer, the Colts were dynamite in crunch time during a hard-earned 58-52 win over Tallmadge.
It was Cloverleaf’s first SL triumph since Buckwald scored 31 points in a 56-55 decision over Highland on Dec. 17, 2010.
“It feels awesome,” Podolak said. “It’s been, like, two years since we won a league game. It’s about time.”
For all of first-year Colts coach Marty Ryan’s adjustments during the game — switching to a 2-3 zone in the third quarter and stalling for the better part of the fourth — his biggest move came before it.
As his team sat in the locker room, Ryan closed the doors and turned off the lights. He told the players to envision victory, and anything else would be unacceptable.
It was the extra motivation Cloverleaf (3-9, 1-6) needed against the Blue Devils (1-10, 1-6), who were clearly energized with the return of four-year letterwinner Anthony Gotto (17 points, 7-of-14 shooting) from a hip injury sustained during football season.
“I’ve never been that pumped up in my life,” Podolak said.
“It was pretty cool. It definitely helped,” Buckwald said. “I always like those motivational speeches before the game. It gets me pretty hyped up.”
Buckwald scored 11 of his team-high 16 points in the first half and ripped down a game-high nine rebounds. Collyer netted 11 of his 15 points in the second half to go with seven rebounds and three steals, while Podolak scored 13 points and make 4-of-6 free throws in the fourth quarter after injuring his shooting shoulder in the third.
Sophomore forward Connor Ploucha and senior forward Brandt Buckholz also hit big buckets early in the fourth quarter as Cloverleaf was patient offensively en route to shooting 20-of-41 (.488) from the floor.
“When everyone steps up like that, we start clicking,” Buckwald said.
After jostling with the offensively challenged Blue Devils, who shot just 8-of-34 when an 8-of-11 third quarter was factored out, Cloverleaf began the fourth with an 8-2 flurry capped by a Buckholz layup that made it 49-41.
Tallmadge, whose leading scorer, Andrew Francesconi (14.8 ppg), was held without a field goal for the first time this season, only got within three points once the rest of the night. Gotto drilled a 3-pointer to make it 53-50 with 47.3 seconds remaining, but that’s when the last-ditch rally died as Podolak and Collyer made two free throws each over the next 15 seconds.
“This is our first Suburban League win in a while, so hopefully this will get us jump-started and we can finish up the second half of the season (strong),” Buckwald said.
|Tallmadge shot 5-of-22 from the floor and 9-of-20 from the free throw line in the first half, while the Colts committed 11 turnovers.
l Guard Braedon Hansen scored 16 points and center Dillon Mullins added 15 as Cloverleaf’s junior varsity won 42-36.
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or email@example.com.
Cloverleaf 58, Tallmadge 52
TALLMADGE 10 11 18 13 — 52
CLOVERLEAF 12 11 19 16 — 58
Tallmadge — Joseph Vassalotti 1-0-2, Andrew Francesconi 0-6-6, Damon Gidley 0-2-2, Colten Stricker 3-0-7, Nate Bickar 3-5-12, Anthony Gotto 7-0-17, John Rensel 0-1-1, Bryon Cook 2-1-5, Kyle Johnson 0-0-0. TOTALS: 16-15-52.
Cloverleaf — Robby Buckwald 5-4-16, Brandt Buckholz 1-1-3, Jayson Sykora 1-0-2, Brandon Johnson 2-0-5, Cliff Collyer 6-3-15, Connor Ploucha 2-0-4, Ryan O’Callaghan 0-0-0, Bishop Woodall 0-0-0, Adam Podolak 3-6-13. TOTALS: 20-14-58.
3-point goals — Gotto 3, Stricker, Bickar, Buckwald 2, Johnson, Podolak. Rebounds — Tallmadge 28 (Francesconi 6), Cloverleaf 31 (Buckwald 9). Assists — Tallmadge 6 (Stricker 2), Cloverleaf 9 (Johnson, Collyer, O’Callaghan 2). Records — Tallmadge (1-10, 1-6), Cloverleaf (3-9, 1-6). Junior varsity — Cloverleaf 42, Tallmadge 36.