CLEVELAND — Kaleb Martin made a free throw for his 1,563rd and final career point, checked out of the game and shared a long hug with coach Mark Kinsley as the applause rained down from Green’s fans.
“It was just like a thank-you moment,” the Bulldogs' senior point guard said. “I told him how much I appreciate him and love him.”
The feeling was mutual.
Martin’s sensational high school career and Green’s stirring tournament run came to an end Saturday afternoon in a 71-53 Division I regional final loss to Lakewood St. Edward in front of 3,274 fans at Cleveland State’s Wolstein Center.
Martin fought his emotions afterward and tried to put his four-year varsity career in perspective, saying, “Coach Kinsley … I love him for everything [he’s done]. My teammates. The crowd. I’m going to miss it.”
Green (22-5) had never been past a district final before this year. The Bulldogs beat Jackson by 20 points in the district championship last week, then took down Mentor by 17 in the regional semifinal Wednesday, playing nearly flawless basketball.
Their recent mojo seemed to be intact during Saturday’s first quarter as they led St. Ed’s 15-8. But it was all Ed’s from there as the bigger, stronger Eagles (19-8) cruised to their second state appearance in the last three years.
Martin scored 16 points (10 in the fourth quarter) to lead Green, and junior center Donovan O’Neil added 15. Martin is Green’s career scoring leader, finishing 321 points ahead of second-place Austin Marciniak.
The 53-year-old Kinsley grew up in Green, graduated from Green High School in 1984 and has been the Bulldogs coach for 21 years.
“He’s the best basketball player I’ve ever seen come through Green,” Kinsley said of the 5-foot-9 Martin. “I don’t see how you could even debate that.”
After leading by seven points at the end of the first quarter, the wheels came off for Green during the next 16 minutes of basketball. The Bulldogs were outscored 38-12 during the second and third quarters combined as they shot 4-for-20 from the floor.
That included a three-point second quarter, during which St. Ed’s coach Eric Flannery said the Eagles threw six different defenses at Green.
“We just started mixing things up,” Flannery said. “We knew we had to speed them up. We knew we had to get the ball out of Kaleb’s hands as much as possible. I thought we did an excellent job of that. We needed other guys to make decisions.”
Martin took just two shots during the second and third quarters, missing both. In the second quarter, Green shot 1-for-10 from the floor and 1-for-5 from the foul line while committing five turnovers.
Devontae Blanton, a 6-6 junior, finished with 23 points and eight rebounds for St. Ed’s. He converted consecutive 3-point plays, powering through contact, to push the Eagles’ lead to 20 for the first time with 2:44 left in the third quarter.
Other than Martin, the rest of Green’s starting lineup — O’Neil and juniors Garrison Keeslar, Shea Simmer and Ryan Smith — returns next year along with junior Alex Casper and freshman Trey Martin from the rotation.
The future is bright in Green.
“It’s exciting,” Kinsley said. “Hopefully getting a taste of this, if we can be fortunate enough to get out of the district again, let’s see what happens. … We think we’ve got a couple of younger kids that are going to be able to play for us that weren’t in the rotation this year that will be able to help us.”