NORTH RIDGEVILLE — Elyria Catholic coach Jason Smith finally saw what he wanted to see.
The Panthers played a wide-open, yet controlled, brand of basketball in the second half to win their second game of the season, 62-51, versus North Ridgeville in a West Shore Conference game.
“That’s the kind of basketball we’ve been trying to play,” Smith said. “We kind of let the reigns go a little bit and let them play. We picked up full-court, man-to-man and ran our offense. They ran up and down the court and did an excellent job.”
The Panthers (2-4, 2-2 WSC) struggled in the first half, shooting just 44 percent (8-of-14) and turned the ball over 16 times. Despite the struggles, EC led 24-22 at halftime thanks to the play off the bench of senior Danny Whitacre and sophomore Ceeven Shelton.
Whitacre scored seven points, all in the second quarter, while Shelton scored three points with five rebounds, three blocks and two steals in the first half.
Shelton also shut down Dennis Millgard, North Ridgeville’s leading scorer, who came into the game averaging 13.6 points. He was held to just two points in the first half and finished with eight points on 2-of-16 shooting.
“I wanted to go out there and stop their best player,” said Shelton, who finished with 10 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks. “Defense is a big part of what I have to do out there and I was able to play pretty good defense tonight. I was boxing out and going for every rebound I could get.
“Rebounding and defense was a big part of this game. I wasn’t looking to score — I was looking to get my teammates open shots and was mainly focused on defense. Defense has to come first.”
The Rangers (1-5, 0-4) struggled from the floor in the first half. At one point they went almost eight minutes — from 3:45 left in the first quarter to 4:22 remaining in the second — without scoring. Elyria Catholic was unable to take advantage, however, as it scored just four points in the span.
The Panthers used a 22-point third quarter, including eight from senior guard Cory Strasko in a two-minute span, to blow the game open.
Strasko, a 6-foot-1 guard, went into the paint on the offensive end, where he could shoot over North Ridgeville’s 5-5 junior guard Matt Clark.
With the Panthers leading 34-33, Strasko posted Clark up in the lane and scored with 2:54 remaining in the third. The next time down the floor he did the same thing, giving EC a 38-33 lead. With 1:23 remaining, Strasko again went down low and shot over Clark, hitting from below the foul line to extend the lead to 40-33. After Shelton hit a pair of free throws, Strasko scored on an inbounds play to give the Panthers their biggest lead of the game, 44-33, with :55 remaining in the third.
“He made that call himself. He’s our senior point guard and he really impressed me tonight,” Smith said. “He saw the mismatch. We ran our motion offense and he got inside to take advantage of that mismatch. He was all over the place. That third quarter from him is what we expect from him every night.”
The Rangers were able to get as close as eight points in the fourth quarter, but every time North Ridgeville scored, the Panthers had an answer.
North Ridgeville coach Bryan Morgan was happy with his team’s first-half defense, but knows the Rangers will have to play much better if it hopes to compete in the WSC.
“We’ve been giving up a lot of points and still don’t play very good team defense,” Morgan said. “I think EC had a lot of unforced turnovers that kept their score down in the first half. When it came down to playing team defense in the second half, we still had guys out of position, not ball-side, not helping when we needed to and that didn’t know what defense we were in at times.
“Until we can fix those things, we’re going to be the bottom of the barrel. We did play better defense in the first half and that was probably the best defensive half that we’ve had, but that’s about it. I really don’t know what to say.”
Smith hopes his team has found its identity with a tough game against Lakewood on the horizon Friday.
“Over the last five games I really think we’ve been trying to find our identity,” he said. “On my part I think I’ve tried to slow them down too much and tried to get them to play too controlled. Tonight we really proved we can play that kind of basketball every night.”
Bailey Gannon paced North Ridgeville with 15 points, connecting on four of eight shots from beyond the 3-point arc.
Whitacre ended the game with 13 points and 10 rebounds while Xavier Bennett, in his first start of the year, scored 12 points and pulled down six rebounds. Whitacre added three blocks while Bennett led the Panthers with five steals.
EC 62, N. Ridgeville 51
ELYRIA CATHOLIC (62): Tyler Riddell 1-11 2-2 4, Daniel Whitacre 4-7 5-7 13, John Stursa 2-5 1-2 7, Xavier Bennett 4-5 4-9 12, D.J. Graham 1-3 0-0 2, Connor Riddell 1-3 0-0 2, Cory Strasko 4-6 0-0 8, Angelo Cruz 2-4 0-0 4, Ceeven Shelton 2-5 5-6 10. Totals 21-49 17-26 62.
NORTH RIDGEVILLE (51): Nate Inal 1-3 0-0 2, Matt Clark 3-10 0-0 9, Bailey Gannon 5-10 1-1 15, Dennis Millgard 2-16 3-7 8, Nolan Freeman 1-4 0-2 2, Myron Johnson 1-1 0-1 3, Tyler DeShetler 2-5 0-0 6, Dan Teitenberg 1-3 3-4 5, Jacob Ruoff 0-2 0-0 0, Mason Demyen 0-1 1-2 1. Totals 16-55 8-17 51.
Elyria Catholic 9 15 22 16 — 62
North Ridgeville 8 14 14 15 — 51
Three-point goals: Elyria Catholic 3-14 (Stursa 2, Shelton), North Ridgeville 11-29 (Gannon 4, Clark 3, DeShetler 2, Millgard, Johnson). Rebounds: Elyria Catholic 43 (Shelton 13), North Ridgeville 33 (Millgard 12). Turnovers: Elyria Catholic 24, North Ridgeville 23. Total fouls: Elyria Catholic 16, North Ridgeville 21. Fouled out: Inal.
Junior varsity: Elyria Catholic, 47-46.
Contact Mike Perry at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.