CUYAHOGA FALLS: Walsh Jesuit had a perfect conference record on the line. Archbishop Hoban had other ideas.
Playing spoiler, and gaining some payback as well, Hoban gained a 49-40 victory on the Warriors’ home court Friday night in the final regular-season game for both teams.
Walsh (15-7, 9-1) still wins the title of the North Coast League Blue Division by one game over Hoban (17-5, 8-2), but that hardy mattered to the visiting Knights on this occasion.
Befitting the rivalry, the atmosphere was intense in a jam-packed, noisy gym, and defense had it all over the offense.
“Our shooting percentage is low, but we’re finding a way to win games and I think that’s a key to our good season,” Hoban coach T.K. Griffith said. “We’ve got 17 wins playing an incredibly tough schedule and our five losses are by a total of eight points.”
One of those was a 48-47 loss to Walsh at Hoban on Jan. 18, which turned out to be the difference in the standings.
“Our kids really wanted to come out and end their senior year with a W over St. V [St. Vincent-St. Mary] and Walsh in the same year,” Griffith said. “We were able to get both rivalry wins, although they [Walsh] beat us at home, obviously.”
This time, Hoban spotted Walsh a 5-1 lead before the Knights scored the next 12 points. Hoban never trailed again, though Walsh got even at 23-23 midway through the third quarter.
“I’m just thinking we have to go out there and fight harder,” Hoban senior Jaelen Hollinger said.
“Whoever wants this win is going to go out there and get this win. It’s a rivalry game so we know anything can happen. They can come back, we can come back, so we just have to compete.”
The 6-foot-2 Hollinger scored five of his game-high 18 points as the Knights responded with a 14-2 run — highlighted by Christian Waite’s buzzer-beating, off-balance 3-pointer at the third-quarter buzzer — and took a double-digit lead early in the fourth quarter.
Walsh battled back on three 3-pointers by 6-6 senior David Croft, and cut it to 43-40 on a Max Siwik 3-pointer with 1:07 left. Hoban made 6-of-8 free throws to close it out.
The Knights did so despite foul problems for 6-3 senior Saadiq Muhammad, who sat out the last five minutes of the first half after picking up his third personal. He then was called for his fourth with 4:28 left in the third and sat out the rest of the quarter.
“The main thing was just making sure that I didn’t stop playing with energy,” Muhammad said.
“Coach told me it would be better for me to go in and play with four fouls hard than to go in and play soft. So I had to make sure I was playing smart and playing hard at the same time.”
His teammates picked up the slack in his absence, and Muhammad returned to score four of his 13 points in the fourth quarter.
Croft led Walsh with 14 points and eight rebounds, and 6-2 senior Mark Mittiga added 10 points.
“We had a lot of good looks and we just didn’t finish,” Walsh coach John Norris said.
“When you get down, especially to a team like Hoban it’s tough to fight back against them because they have so many offensive weapons. It’s difficult to put yourself in a hole in those kind of situations.”