June 25, 2016

Mostly sunny

District boys basketball: Devils finally get another shot at title

BROADVIEW HTS. — The Brunswick boys basketball team scratched a 15-year itch Wednesday night.

For the first time since 1999, the Blue Devils will play for a regional berth after defeating Westlake 54-48 in Brecksville Division I District semifinal action.

Seventh-seeded Brunswick (16-9) will meet powerful and top-seeded St. Edward, a 69-37 winner over Nordonia in the first game of the evening, in a district final Saturday at 7 p.m. Sixth-seeded Westlake ended its season 18-6.

Brunswick players (L-R) Jason Okulovich, Nate Armagost and Ryan Badowski celebrate a victory as time expires against the Westalke Demons. Photo by Aaron Josefczyk

Brunswick players Jason Okulovich, Nate Armagost and Ryan Badowski celebrate a victory as time expires against the Westalke Demons. (AARON JOSEFCZYK / GAZETTE)

“We’re excited to play St. Edward,” said Brunswick senior guard Ryan Badowski, who scored a game-high 23 points. “Most people think they’re the No. 1 team in the state and we’ve got a shot to play them in the district finals. What more could you ask for?”

The Blue Devils, who won a district title in 1999 and lost to Mansfield in the regional semifinals, certainly could not have asked for better shooting than they got against the Demons.

Brunswick made just five two-pointers and attempted only 11, but went a sizzling 12-for-26 from behind the arc (.462), with Badowski and Zach Parker (17 points) hitting five apiece while playing the entire game and Eric Bulic (9 points) canning two.

“I knew they could potentially shoot the ball well, but you can’t predict that,” Westlake coach Shawn Hood said.

Despite their red-hot shooting and foul trouble to 6-foot-7 Demons power forward and Northwestern recruit Gavin Skelly (15 points), the Blue Devils had to work to put Westlake away.

With Brunswick up 48-47, scoreless-to-that-point Blue Devils guard Jason Okulovich stepped to the line and hit both ends of a pressure-packed one-and-one with 44.6 seconds to go. After Westlake’s Makis Beach missed a 3-pointer, Okulovich went to the line again with 20.6 seconds left and again made both ends.

“Those were huge free throws,” said Badowski, who put the game totally out of reach by hitting two more at the stripe with 7.0 ticks on the clock. “Coach (Joe Mackey) said they were probably the biggest free throws of his life. Jason stepped up and knocked them down.”

That’s all Parker did in the first quarter, but his came from behind the arc, where he went 4-for-4 in the opening eight minutes. A year ago, Parker made a school-record 10 3-pointers in a tournament win over Cloverleaf.

“I noticed their hands were down, so I shot it,” the senior said. “Once the first one went down, the basket started looking bigger.”

“Right from the start, Zach was launching and every one went in,” Badowski said. “He had confidence and hit some big shots like he always does.”

Badowski added eight points in the opening period, meaning he and Parker accounted for all but one of the Blue Devils’ points as they took a 21-10 lead.

Skelly got his second foul with 2:03 to play in the first quarter, then picked up his third on a questionable call — it looked like he should have been called for a lane violation — while teammate Cameron Brown was attempting a free throw with 6:30 left in the first half.

Hood didn’t get Skelly out of the game until the 5:25 mark, but the Demons, behind small forward Joe Hadib Nissan (13 points), outscored Brunswick 15-9 the rest of the quarter to get within 32-28 at intermission.

“The same shots we made in the first quarter, we missed in the second,” said Mackey, whose team was 6-for-10 from behind the arc in the opening period and 2-for-10 in the next. “Walking down to the locker room, I’m thinking, ‘We just blew a golden opportunity.’

“You’ve got to give our kids credit. They hung in there.”

With Badowski handling the ball the majority of the game and Parker taking over at times, Brunswick stretched its lead back to eight at the end of three periods.

Brunswick started milking the clock midway through the fourth — Westlake had six fouls to give before the Blue Devils reached the bonus — and then made six straight free throws in the final minute.

The key to everything was Badowski, who went 8-for-14 from the field overall, 5-for-9 from behind the arc and made his only two free throw attempts. The 6-3 Longwood (Va.) University recruit now has 85 points in three tournament games.

“Who wants their season to end? Nobody,” he said. “They played good defense, but when I had an open shot I took it and knocked it down. Everyone else played great, too.”

Badowski, who has 522 points this season, became the first Brunswick player and 14th in Medina County history to top 500. He also has 1,342 points for his career, which moves him past Black River’s Richard Jackson (1995-98) and into fourth place in county history.

“I’d have to look long and hard to find a guard playing as well as he’s played the last two or three weeks,” Mackey said. “He’s elevated his game and put us on his back. He’s playing his best basketball at the most important time of the season.”

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @RickNoland.

Rick Noland About Rick Noland

Rick Noland is the Cavs beat writer for The Gazette and the author of "Over Time," a compilation of stories he's written in more than 30 years as a journalist. He can be reached at 330-721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.