July 23, 2016

Mostly sunny

County teams can make playoff history

Highland's Alex Harris avoids Nordonia's Trey Lincoln on a first quarter run. Highland is one of three county teams to already make the playoffs. (RON SCHWANE / GAZEETE)

Albert Grindle

The Gazette

The impressive and, quite frankly, surprising rebound is nearly complete.

Medina County was shut out of the playoffs last season for the first time since the Ohio High School Athletic Association expanded to 192 qualifiers in 1999. It is now on the verge of history.

Heading into Week 10 action tonight, only Medina has been eliminated from contention. Black River (Division V, Region 15), Highland (D-II, Region 4) and Wadsworth (D-I, Region 1) have clinched berths, while Brunswick (14th in Region 1), Buckeye (8th in D-III, Region 8) and Cloverleaf (10th in Region 8) likely will join them with victories.

The county record for playoff qualifiers is four in 2003 and 2009, but chances are that will fall to the wayside due to the OHSAA expanding the tournament to seven divisions this season.

The top 16 schools in each of the two D-I regions make the playoffs, while the remaining six divisions have four regions each. Each region gets eight qualifiers.

Here’s a breakdown of the six county schools in the hunt:

Black River (D-V, R15)

TONIGHT: at Keystone (6-3, 5-0).

STATUS: No. 4 seed. Clinched berth (clinches home game with win).

FANTASTIC50.NET PROJECTED OPPONENT: Youngstown Liberty (24 percent), Youngstown Ursuline (23), Gilmour Academy (18), Navarre Fairless (17), Beachwood (11).

OUTLOOK: The Pirates vaulted four spots in the standings this week thanks to second-level help from Western Reserve, Lutheran West, Wellington and Buckeye. Whether they hold the all-important final home berth remains to be seen.

The bottom line is Black River must defeat Keystone to clinch a game at Art Stevenson Field. Top-seeded Manchester, which owns a 56-13 win over the Pirates, already has locked up one of them and No. 2 Columbiana Crestview plays 0-9 East Palestine, meaning Black River is competing with Youngstown Ursuline (vs. 9-0 St. Vincent-St. Mary), Navarre Fairless (vs. 2-7 Massillon Tuslaw) and Gilmour Academy (vs. 2-6 Youngstown Christian).

Black River has the murkiest first-round opponent projection because 10 teams are still in play for the four remaining berths. It obviously would like to avoid Ursuline, Beachwood and Fairless, which defeated Manchester in three overtimes, but would have a very solid draw against Gilmour Academy and its suspect all-independent schedule. Liberty hails from the same conference as Girard, which ended Black River’s 2011 season in the second round.

Brunswick (D-I, R1)

TONIGHT: at Solon (5-4, 2-2).

STATUS: No. 13 seed. Will clinch berth with win (still slight favorite to advance with loss).

FANTASTIC50.NET PROJECTED OPPONENT: Westerville Central (23), St. Edward (17), Austintown Fitch (17), Canton McKinley (17), Mentor (15).

OUTLOOK: The variables make a clear prediction impossible, but, in layman’s terms, the Blue Devils should feel good about their chances to secure a berth for the first time in four years. The reasoning is matchups.

Though No. 12 Elyria is a heavy favorite against 3-6 Medina, No. 16 Green (vs. 5-4 Tallmadge), No. 17 Toledo Whitmer (at 5-4 Lima Senior) and No. 19 Strongsville (vs. 8-1 Mentor) are, at best, slight ones or underdogs. No. 18 Massillon Jackson (at 3-6 North Canton Hoover) has the best matchup.

A key swing game is No. 20 North Royalton (3-6) hosting No. 15 Shaker Heights (6-3). The Blue Devils obviously will be rooting for the Bears in that one.

Brunswick also should pull for Twinsburg (at 8-1 Hudson), Normandy (vs. 3-6 Valley Forge) and Padua (at 6-3 Benedictine), though potential second-level points will become largely irrelevant with a victory over Solon.

If the Blue Devils advance, they would no doubt love to get another shot at Fitch, which escaped with a 28-14 victory in Week 3. If not, they will have a strong case as one of the best teams not to make the playoffs. Brunswick’s three losses have come to Fitch, Mentor (45-3) and Hudson (22-13), which are ranked second, eighth and ninth in The Associated Press D-I state poll.

Buckeye (D-III, R8)

TONIGHT: vs. Firelands (0-9, 0-6).

STATUS: No. 8 seed. Needs win and outside help.

FANTASTIC50.NET PROJECTED OPPONENT: Toledo Central Catholic (56), Clyde (28), Sandusky Perkins (15), Tiffin Columbian (2).

OUTLOOK: It will take a performance of epic proportions for winless Firelands to upend the Bucks tonight, so scoreboard watching will be an important matter. Buckeye is in contention for three available berths along with Napolean, Defiance, Padua and Cloverleaf.

The good news is No. 7 Defiance is a massive underdog against Kenston, which is ranked No. 1 in the AP D-IV state poll. The same goes for the Colts (2-7) against undefeated Highland, which is sixth in D-II.

The bad news is No. 5 Napolean is a favorite against 3-6 Bowling Green and No. 9 Padua is a near-lock for a berth with a victory at Benedictine (6-3).

Second-level points from Oberlin (vs. 1-8 Brooklyn), Keystone (vs. 7-2 Black River) and Lutheran West (vs. 8-1 Fairview) could be hard to come by, but Defiance, Cloverleaf and Padua are such underdogs the Bucks’ prospects look good.

The first-round matchup, however, probably won’t. Toledo Central Catholic is ranked first in the AP state poll and considered by most a top-10 team regardless of division, while Clyde owns victories over 8-1 Tiffin Columbian and 7-2 Eastwood yet was crushed by Perkins 34-14.

Cloverleaf (D-III, R8)

TONIGHT: at Highland (9-0, 6-0).

STATUS: No. 10 seed. Will clinch berth with win.

FANTASTIC50.NET PROJECTED OPPONENT: Clyde (54), Sandusky Perkins (28), Toledo Central Catholic (19).

OUTLOOK: The scenario is eerily familiar to 2008: Beat 9-0 Highland and clinch a berth, but turn in your equipment if you don’t. It’s that simple for the Colts.

The catch, of course, is beating the No. 6 team in the AP state poll that is a 30-point favorite and fresh off a momentous win at Nordonia. One thing has held true in this rivalry over the last 10 years, though, and that’s the Colts bring their “A” game just about every time.

The large amount of points to be earned could bump the Colts as high as sixth. They will be a big underdog regardless of first-round opponent, but would earn the distinction of the ultra-rare three-win playoff team.

There are two reasons why Cloverleaf is in this position. First, only eight of the region’s 26 teams have winning records. Second, the Colts have picked up significant second-level points from Buckeye (5-4) and Keystone (6-3) throughout the season.

Highland (D-II, R4)

TONIGHT: vs. Cloverleaf (2-7, 0-6).

STATUS: No. 1 seed. Clinched home game.

FANTASTIC50.NET PROJECTED OPPONENT: Walsh Jesuit (34), Avon Lake (32), Sylvania Southview (13), Toledo St. Francis De Sales (12), Nordonia (4).

OUTLOOK: There’s not a lot to gain playoff-wise for the Hornets tonight — a perfect regular season is it — and that makes for a dangerous situation. Positioning will be all that matters, and Highland will get a good draw should it avoid St. Francis De Sales and Massillon. This appears likely, as the Knights play 2-7 Findlay and will likely move upward, while the Tigers must defeat undefeated rival Canton McKinley on Saturday to advance.

Highland would have favorable matchups against spread teams Walsh Jesuit and Sylvania Southview on the infamous natural surface at Highland Stadium. A tougher test would be Avon Lake, which is led by former Medina coach Larry Laird and extremely similar to Wadsworth with a power running game.

If No. 2 Avon and Highland hold their positions, they wouldn’t see each other until the regional championship.

Wadsworth (D-I, R1)

TONIGHT: at Nordonia (8-1, 5-1).

STATUS: No. 9 seed. Clinched berth (clinches home game with victory).

FANTASTIC50.NET PROJECTED OPPONENT: Cleveland Heights (69), Elyria (17), St. Ignatius (5), Stow (4), Marysville (3).

OUTLOOK: The Grizzlies will fall no further than 11th due to a lot of wiggle room between them and No. 10 St. Ignatius, but clinching a home game will no doubt be on their minds tonight at Nordonia.

Though the possibility remains of obtaining a home game even with a loss, those odds are slim to none. Wadsworth is unlikely to receive any help via losses from No. 6 Westerville Central (at 4-5 Dublin Jerome), No. 7 Stow (at 3-6 North Royalton) and No. 8 Cleveland Heights (at 2-7 Shaw) and would need massive upsets by Cloverleaf (at 9-0 Highland) and Medina (at 6-3 Elyria), a mild one by Wooster (at 4-5 Orrville) and an Ashland victory over 1-8 Lexington.

Cleveland Heights is also unlikely to lose or gain much ground because of its weak opponent, thus making it the Grizzlies’ most likely first-round opponent.

Though they are drastically different philosophically, Elyria (spread) and Stow (power run) would be significantly more favorable opponents for Wadsworth than St. Ignatius, which would be a heavy favorite.

Marysville is the unknown due to its proximity to Columbus, but its seven victories have come against opponents with a combined 24-39 record.

Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or agrindle@medina-gazette.com.

Albert Grindle About Albert Grindle

Albert Grindle is a sportswriter for the Gazette. He can be reached at 330-721-4043 or agrindle@medina-gazette.com.