STOW: Surely, Tallmadge is disappointed with the result of Wednesday’s Stow Division II district semifinal against Cleveland Central Catholic.
What the Blue Devils can’t be disappointed with is their effort.
It sounds cliché, but despite being completely overmatched physically and trailing by 12 after the first quarter, the Blue Devils were within three points of tying the top-seeded Ironmen with less than a minute remaining, ultimately ending their season with a 57-49 loss.
“They’re good,” first-year Tallmadge coach Mike Bluey said. “You have to play — I wouldn’t say to perfection — but you have to play really well to beat that team.”
The Ironmen (17-6) came out of the gate looking like they were playing a different sport than the Blue Devils (14-10), scoring 15 points in the first three minutes, throwing down dunks, draining deep 3-pointers in transition and silencing the Blue Devils’ packed student section. Even the Tallmadge faithful would have had a hard time envisioning anything but a blowout after the 20-8 first quarter.
From that point on, though, the Blue Devils outscored the Ironmen 41-37, but the first-quarter deficit was just too large to overcome.
“I knew it would take us some time to adjust to their speed,” Bluey said. “We just don’t see that in our league and we certainly don’t practice against it. I guess I was hoping that we could adjust within a three-to-four minute time frame and it took us the whole quarter.”
Junior Colten Stricker scored six points in the second quarter to help reverse the momentum of the game. He finished with 11 points.
Senior Nate Bickar was hot from beyond the 3-point line, knocking down five 3-pointers en route to a team-high 17 points.
“That’s what seniors do,” Bluey said of Stricker. “He texted me right after school and he doesn’t do that a whole heck of a lot. When he did that this afternoon I knew that kid was going to have a good night. He’s disappointed tonight but he’ll look back and have a lot of fond memories of his senior year at Tallmadge basketball.”
Junior guard Andrew Francesconi is Tallmadge’s tallest starter, standing at 6-foot-4. Cleveland Central Catholic had starters of 6-5, 6-7 and 6-9. Though Francesconi finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds, Tallmadge was outrebounded 32-19.
The Blue Devils had a chance late, cutting the deficit to three points with 41.3 seconds remaining, but two costly turnovers kept them from even getting a shot off.
“The further you advance, the lights get a little brighter and the teams get a little better,” Bluey said. “It’s good for us. We made a lot of growth and took a lot of steps forward this year in terms of the program. It’s just fun to see the community get re-energized and enjoy coming back to basketball games.”
Sophomore forward Trevell Beck led four Ironmen scoring in double figures with 19 points.
Cleveland Central Catholic moves on to face the winner of tonight’s CVCA-Archbishop Hoban game in a district final Saturday.