CANTON — The hole was a little too deep.
Down 28-6, Mogadore gritted its way back — within 16 at the half, 14 at the end of the third quarter and 10 twice in the fourth.
But the Wildcats never could quite overcome that early 22-point deficit and lost 63-51 to Lutheran East in the Division III Canton regional title game Saturday night.
“We got off to a quick start, a great start,” Falcons coach Sam Liggins said. “That was the message. We know that team is very tough, well-coached. You know they’re gritty. If they hang around in a game, it can be a toss-up. We wanted to establish tempo, pace, and we did a good job doing that.”
The Wildcats ended their season with plenty of hardware: a Portage Trail Conference County Division title, a Division III Salem district title and a Division III Canton regional runner-up trophy.
“Right now, it’s pretty hard to digest,” Mogadore senior forward Connor Kerr said. “I’m not going to lie. I just can’t really believe it’s over, but if you do look at the positives, it’s an amazing season that we had, an amazing career that our senior class has had.”
A different start and who knows how the Wildcats would have fared Saturday evening.
In the first quarter, Mogadore went 2-of-14 from the field, 0-of-6 from deep, while Lutheran East went an efficient 8-of-12 from the field, led by two EJ Farmer 3-pointers and six points from Nehemiah Benson.
A couple of minutes into the second quarter and the Wildcats found themselves down 28-6.
“They’re crazy athletic and they just get right in your face whenever you have the ball, whenever you don’t have the ball, they’re just always on you,” Kerr said. “They’re like glue. It’s really hard to adjust. We’ve never played a team like that.”
From there, the Wildcats fought like crazy, even as their customary 3-point shots never dropped. Mogadore went 3-of-22 from deep, including 1-of-16 through three quarters.
An 8-0 run, sparked by their success on the defensive end, helped the Wildcats draw within 16 by the half.
Junior Dylan Jones (14 points, 6-of-8 from the field) provided a further spark in the third, with a beautiful fake-step-and-shoot mid-range jumper to cut the gap to 43-25 and a high-rising put-back to draw within 43-28.
“Dylan has always reminded me of Kyrie Irving,” Kerr said. “I don’t know why. He just has got the dribble moves. He can finish any way he wants.”
In the fourth, Mogadore junior Lukas Swartz (15 points) spun past his defender for a layup to make it 51-37, senior Kyle Coffman put back a fast-break miss and junior Nathan Stephenson nabbed a steal and flicked a floater home.
Somehow, improbably, the Wildcats trailed by 10 with 2:25 remaining. A Mogadore crowd that filled up most of Canton Memorial Field House but had little to cheer about for much of the night was roaring.
Benson pushed the lead back to 12 with a transition finish but, once again, Jones had an answer with a slick wraparound layup as he extended his right arm far beyond his defender for a clean look and a beautiful finish.
Two free throws and a Farmer fast-break dunk shut the door on Mogadore’s magical season, which included the program's first regional title game berth since 1983.