The box score will tell you Lunden McDay and Seth Wilson led the St. Vincent-St. Mary boys basketball team to a 47-37 Akron Division I regional semifinal over Olmsted Falls on Wednesday at Rhodes Arena.
Poise and incredible defense will show just how the Fighting Irish (22-3) took the best from the Bulldogs (23-3) to reach a regional final Saturday against Lima Senior (22-4) for the right to play in their fourth consecutive final four.
At first, Olmsted Falls looked like it was going to make the elite eight for the first time since 2007. The Bulldogs started out on a 16-0 run and looked like they were going to shoot the Irish right out of the gym.
“The win is a testament to our guys not quitting and their willingness to fight through some adversity,” Irish coach Dru Joyce II said. “They did it in a big way. It’s so easy when you get down 16-0 to pack it in or doubt yourself, but they didn’t.
“We just talked about being able to withstand. We knew from watching film that they started out strong. We knew over the course of the game that we could wear them down and I think that’s what you saw toward the end.”
That’s when the team with 20 district titles in the past 22 years and the one with seven state titles since the turn of the century (and a record eight overall) took over.
Believe it when the Irish say that experience played a huge difference against a team that hadn’t been to the round of 16 in the past 12 seasons.
“We had to keep fighting and continue to play defense and keep going hard,” said McDay, who led all scorers with 14 points. “We stayed cool and calm and kept pushing.”
That defense came through with incredible precision as an Olmsted Falls team that shot 4-for-5 to start and 6-for-11 after the first quarter folded in on itself.
Once the defensive pressure amped up for St. V-M, the Bulldogs faded, shooting 7-for-24 the rest of the way.
To compound the Irish’s momentum swing, Olmsted Falls went ahead 24-9 with 3:05 remaining before halftime and then went 5:49 without scoring another point.
In fact, after Michael Fritz’s 3-pointer three minutes before halftime, the Bulldogs made only four more field goals the rest of the way.
“It’s just a mindset,” Joyce said. “We turned up the pressure a little bit. We believe that’s what we’re great at. We’re great at defending, especially in the half court and then we can extend it to the full court."
Key to the surge for the Irish was an 8-0 run to end the first half that put cut their deficit to seven at the break. Back at it to start the third, St. V-M pushed even harder and took the lead for good on an and-one by Darius Cone to make it 30-29 with 2:04 remaining in the third.
It was a quarter owned by Wilson, who scored 11 of his 13 points in the quarter.
“He’s a very good shooter and they just dared him to shoot it,” Joyce said. “I thought that’s what was going on the first half. They were daring us to shoot and because I was determined to get to the front of the rim, we were a little hesitant to take some of those shots, but we knew going into halftime that we had the momentum."