CLEVELAND: North Canton Hoover slowed down Mentor’s superb scoring attack but the Vikings couldn’t get going themselves in a 60-46 loss to the Cardinals in a Division I regional semifinal at the Wolstein Center on Wednesday night.
Mentor (22-5) had been averaging more than 100 points in four tournament games, and Hoover (22-5) was scoring in the low 70s most nights. Neither side ever took off, but an 18-0 Mentor run in the first quarter put Hoover in a hole it couldn’t get out of for the rest of the night.
“We didn’t shoot well the whole night,” Hoover coach Randy Montgomery said. “It was a bad night to do that. We couldn’t get going. We just didn’t have enough offensive firepower to get where we wanted.”
The Vikings, who held the Cardinals to their third-lowest scoring output of the season, scored the first seven points of the game before Mentor made back-to-back 3-pointers to turn the momentum. Then the Cardinals made two more 3-pointers and had a couple of steals and, in what seemed like just a few moments, the Vikings were behind 18-7.
“They hit those 3’s like bang-bang, it’s [18-7], and, wow, it’s like getting hit in the jaw,” Montgomery said. After opening up a 35-21 lead at halftime, Mentor started to miss and Hoover went on a run in the third quarter. Senior Dom Iero and junior Nick Evans each completed 3-point plays near the end of the quarter to cut Mentor’s lead to 41-35. But just like in the first quarter, two quick plays essentially erased Hoover’s progress.
Mentor junior Connor Krizancic made a layup to end the third quarter and opened the fourth with a 3-pointer, pushing the lead back to 11 points. The Vikings couldn’t recover after losing the momentum for a second time.
“We had it going, and they answered,” Montgomery said. “We didn’t shoot well enough. We shouldn’t have been in that hole. We just didn’t quite get over that hump.”
Hoover shot 15-of-39 (38.5 percent) from the field and was only 11-of-19 (58 percent) from the free-throw line. The Vikings also missed the usual production from senior Harrison Blackledge, who had a tough time with Mentor forward Brandon Fritts. Blackledge was roughed up and had several layups roll out. He also struggled from the free-throw line, finishing 3-of-8 for eight points.
“Blackledge had a tough night; I felt really bad for him,” Montgomery said. “He missed some point-blank ones early. He just had a rough night. I’m sure Fritts had something to do with that. He’s a powerful athlete.”
Blackledge is one of the primary reasons Hoover made it out of the district, which included two thrilling, come-from-behind wins in the final seconds against Green and then Lake in the district final. He was averaging just over 20 points a game, and his 538 points this season is the second most in Hoover history, behind only Craig Huffman’s 551 in 1985. His 910 career points puts him seventh on the all-time school scoring list.
The other catalyst was Iero, who finished with a team-high 19 points on Wednesday. With that, Iero has 1,070 career points, good enough for third on Hoover’s all-time list behind Nyles Evans (1,183) and Bret Wackerly (1,086). And his 103 3-pointers this season broke a school record.
Those two, as well as Alex Shingleton and a few others, makes this a hard senior class to lose.
“With seniors, you hate to go into that locker room,” Montgomery said. “It’s the toughest part of a coach’s job. I told them how proud of them I am. They accomplished some great things.”
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.