MEDINA — Saturday was Exhibit A why tournament basketball is so mesmerizing.
Wadsworth’s All-Gazette center, Kyle Prunty, was in street clothes with a separated shoulder. Many observers believed the Grizzlies wouldn’t come within 20 points of third-seeded Medina in the Copley Division I Sectional finals.
Fourteenth-seeded Wadsworth instead nearly sent shockwaves through Northeast Ohio.
Almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, however, as the Bees got stat-stuffing games from Branden Wilkins and Jon Teske and enough clutch free throws by Craig Randall to win 70-62.
Medina (18-6) advances to battle No. 11 Green (15-8), a 46-44 upset winner over sixth-seeded Austintown Fitch, in the district semifinals Thursday at Copley.
“That was a close one,” Wilkins said. “We knew we were going to win going into it.”
The Grizzlies (16-8) kept the game close with a five-out offense that the Bees never adjusted to until the final four minutes. Wadsworth led 57-53, giving way for the Bees to score 17 of the game’s final 22 points.
Logic has the final numbers translating into a dominating Medina win. Six-foot-5 power forward Wilkins finished with 22 points and 18 rebounds, 6-11 center Teske added 14, 14 and three blocks and 6-2 shooting guard Randall scored all 18 of his points over the final 12:36.
Wilkins and Teske also outscored starting counterparts Joel Kipfer and Jimmy Elchlinger 36-12 and outrebounded them 32-3.
The catch was the Grizzlies’ game plan, which used their quickness to their advantage. Wadsworth players consistently beat defenders off the dribble to set up driving layups or kick-outs for open jumpers.
Once Kipfer hit two free throws that gave the Grizzlies a 23-21 lead with 4:20 left in the first half, it was game on.
“They wasted a lot of time,” Wilkins said.
Wadsworth received gutsy performances across the board, highlighted by All-Gazette small forward (19 points, 6 rebounds, 2 blocks), sixth man Nick Hewitt (11 points) and backup point guard Tyson Heideman (10 points, 3 assists).
Despite losing the rebounding battle 48-20, the Grizzlies hung around due in large part to 17-for-27 shooting in the middle quarters that they won 41-36.
They simply ran out of gas when things mattered most.
“In 13 years of coaching, (it was) the best effort, bar none, by a group of kids that I’ve coached — the best effort, bar none,” Wadsworth coach Mike Schmeltzer Jr. said. “I told them, ‘Nobody likes to lose, but I’ve never been more proud of a group of kids in my life, ever.’
“The last few weeks, the mentality has been to play hard — as hard as we possibly can — and we’ve noticed that good things happen when we leave it all on the court. There’s nothing left in them now because it was left all out there today.”
Heideman made an acrobatic layup high off the glass midway through the fourth to put Wadsworth ahead 57-53. Randall and Teske then combined to make three free throws and tie the score.
Medina made all the important plays once point guard Zach Bennett gave them the lead for good with a floater in traffic shortly thereafter, as Wilkins followed with an emotional putback.
That set the stage for Randall, who missed his first five shots and was benched for most of the second quarter in favor of freshman Ben Geschke (game-high 4 assists), and Evan Schreck (9 points) to nail nine consecutive free throws over the final 2:56.
They mattered, too, as Wadsworth scored five straight points to get to 64-62 with 1:28 left.
“We just dug deep and found something in us that brought everything out of us,” Randall said. “We left it all on the floor, like we always say before the game.”
While it wasn’t pretty, Medina ultimately got the revenge it desperately wanted after losing at Wadsworth 52-49 on Feb. 18 without Randall.
Their dream of the Final Four is one step closer to reality.
“Toughness,” Randall said. “I mean, we just played Medina basketball. Somehow we find a way to win. This is really good for us.”
“We knew we should have won by a lot more than what we did,” Wilkins said. “We’re going to get back into the gym (today) and work on a couple things.”
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.