WADSWORTH — Tanner Houska and Brogan Scott had been through too much to let the moment slip away.
They now can call themselves Suburban League champions.
Scott sent the game into overtime Friday with a contested 3-pointer with 10 seconds left in regulation and Houska nailed a pull-up jumper with 4.4 seconds left in double OT, giving the Hornets a heart-pounding 63-61 victory over Wadsworth.
The postgame mosh pit in the corner of the Wadsworth gymnasium extended to the locker room when Highland (14-6, 10-3) learned Tallmadge (12-7, 8-4) had upended Green (12-7, 9-4) in overtime.
It marks the Hornets’ first SL crown since 2004-05 and their fourth since joining the circuit in 1976. They can clinch it outright Friday at home against seventh-place Copley (7-13, 5-8).
“It’s a great feeling,” Houska said. “We’ve all come up together since middle school playing together. We had a good summer and we had a goal coming (into the season) that we wanted to win the league. It’s not done yet. We want to win it alone.
“We knew what was on the line and we didn’t want to let the game slip. We let one slip Tuesday (in an overtime loss against Nordonia), so we decided to leave it all out on the floor. We never wanted to quit.”
Tied at 61 following a back-and-forth 18-point first OT, Highland put itself in position to win when Wadsworth’s Kyle Prunty (15 points, 14 rebounds) missed a power layup against Scott (23, 8), who was playing with four fouls, and Anthony Palecek (career-high 17 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists) failed on the ensuing tip attempt.
Realizing Scott couldn’t play effective defense against the better-built Prunty, Highland coach Michael Murphy went to a stall and the Hornets burned more than 3 minutes off the clock.
A timeout with less than a minute to go set up the obvious — a pick-and-roll with Houska and Scott.
Houska (19 points, 7 assists) isolated above the 3-point arc against Nick Hewitt. Bobbing his head in excitement while waiting for Scott’s screen, Houska hopped right, saw Scott was defended perfectly and attacked the basket.
The 5-foot-11 junior learned his lesson from the overtime loss against Nordonia, in which he threw up a wild shot at the rim that went begging. This time, he nailed a pull-up jumper from the right elbow.
The game ended when Wadsworth’s Austin White (13 points, 5 rebounds) didn’t come close on a contested 3-point leaner as time expired.
“They had two great players hit two really, really tough shots,” Grizzlies coach Mike Schmeltzer Jr. said. “What are you going to say?”
The Hornets appeared to be in dire straights after Prunty scored inside to make it 35-25 Wadsworth midway through the third quarter, but Houska and Scott changed the complexion of the game.
With his team’s offense stuck in neutral, Houska went on the attack and scored six straight Highland points to keep the deficit manageable. He then deferred to senior defensive specialist Alex Wood (12 points) for three clutch 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to make it 40-36. Scott capped the quarter and 15-5 run with a step-back 3-pointer that tied the game at 40.
When Houska hit a 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter, he had scored or assisted on the Hornets’ first 22 points of the second half.
“We had to get something going,” Houska said. “We hadn’t been making a lot of shots outside of Wood, so I thought I should try to get to the rim more. It ended up working a little bit.”
Houska and Scott only got hotter in crunch time — they scored 24 of Highland’s last 25 points — but had to survive some tense fourth-quarter moments to get there.
Wadsworth was on the verge of victory when Patrick Long hit a big 3-pointer and Palecek nailed two free throws to make the score 49-45 with 3 minutes left.
The teams then bricked free throws — they were 8-for-19 combined in the period — before Palecek made two with 31.4 seconds remaining to make the score 52-49, setting up the final sequence of regulation.
Highland predictably isolated Houska and Scott for a pick-and-roll, but Scott flared to the 3-point line elbow-extended, took a pass from Houska and nailed a double-teamed 3-pointer with Prunty in his face and 10 seconds left.
The Hornets lived to fight on when a White 3-pointer went begging at the horn, but the game shouldn’t have reached that point in Wadsworth’s eyes.
“Close games come down to two things: Making easy baskets and making easy free throws,” said Schmeltzer, whose team was 10-for-20 from the foul line after halftime. “I don’t think we did a good job of either one.”
The first OT was a shootout, with the teams nailing 5-of-7 field goals and 6-of-7 free throws. Palecek put Wadsworth up 59-58 with a 3-pointer at 29 seconds, Houska gave Highland the lead back with a three-point play and the Grizzlies’ Joel Kipfer cleaned up a missed contested layup by Prunty, who was scoreless over the final 14-plus minutes of the game.
Scott missed a foul-line jumper and Hewitt barely missed a 55-footer to round out the period, leaving only one thing left: Houska’s jumper for joy.
“This is the best I’ve felt in a while,” Scott said. “It’s a great feeling.”
|The last time the Hornets won basketball and football league titles in the same school year was 1955-56, when the teams combined to go 19-0 in the Medina County League.
Former Wadsworth coach Dave Sladky, the winningest coach in Medina County history with a 290-156 record compiled from 1972-93, was in attendance.
Issac Matejin (10 points) hit a contested leaner with 25 seconds remaining to give Highland’s junior varsity a 35-34 victory. Alec Booth had eight points for Wadsworth.
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Highland 63, Wadsworth 61 (2OT)
HIGHLAND 11 10 19 12 9 2 — 63
WADSWORTH 13 12 15 12 9 0 — 61
Highland — Alex Wood 4-0-12, Alec Withers 1-2-4, Brogan Scott 7-6-23, Ben Hauser 1-0-3, Tanner Houska 6-6-19, Zach Levine 0-0-0, Tyler Frederick 1-0-2, Kevin Greenhoe 0-0-0, Coltin Kinsey 0-0-0. TOTALS: 20-14-63.
Wadsworth — Austin White 4-3-13, Joel Kipfer 3-0-6, Kyle Prunty 7-1-15, Anthony Palecek 4-7-17, Patrick Long 2-0-6, Tyson Heideman 0-0-0, Barry Fernholz 0-0-0, Nick Hewitt 2-0-4, Jimmy Elchlinger 0-0-0, Cliff Collyer 0-0-0. TOTALS: 22-11-61.
3-point goals — Wood 4, Scott 3, Houska, Hauser, White 2, Palecek 2, Long 2. Rebounds — Highland 18 (Scott 8), Wadsworth 39 (Prunty 14). Assists — Highland 12 (Houska 7), Wadsworth 11 (Palecek 3). Records — Highland (14-6, 10-3), Wadsworth (12-7, 8-5). Junior varsity — Highland 35, Wadsworth 34.