All Northeast Ohio basketball-interested eyes will be on Elyria Catholic this weekend as the Panthers host the 11th annual Cleveland Scholastic Play-by-Play Classic.
How good is the field? It includes three state semifinalists from a year ago — Lorain, Solon and Akron St. Vincent St. Mary — and six regional qualifiers, including Shaker Heights, St. Edward and Lutheran East.
That group doesn’t include traditional powers such as St. Ignatius, Garfield Heights and others, or Lakewood and Olmsted Falls, each of which went 17-1 in the Southwestern Conference last year.
To get a sense of how much parity there is among the best teams in Northeast Ohio this year, follow along: St. Ignatius has beaten three of the teams in the field (Lutheran East, Cleveland Heights and Garfield Heights) and has since lost four straight, all to Play-by-Play Classic participants — Solon, Canton McKinley, St. Vincent-St. Mary and Lake Catholic.
Cleveland Heights, meanwhile, is 5-3 — with its three losses by a combined seven points … to Ignatius, Cleveland Central Catholic and Villa Angela-St. Joseph.
Shaker Heights has a lopsided win over Garfield Heights and beat a strong Euclid team but also has lost to Cleveland Heights, Brunswick and Lutheran East — Classic teams all — by a combined 68 points.
All of which is to say this weekend is going to be really, really fun. Here’s our best crack at the top teams and players in this year’s event:
LORAIN: The Titans have steamrolled everything in their path behind Devon Grant, Taevon Pierre-Louis and Deonte Benejan. The latter’s arrival via transfer has been huge for Lorain, which now boasts four difference-making players when adding in junior Jordan Jackson and his ability to defend and rebound.
ST. VINCENT ST. MARY: Last year’s Division II state champs are 6-2, with big wins over Garfield Heights and Ignatius. They returned four starters from their title team, including Ohio commit Lunden McDay, and will play in Division I this year at tournament time.
BRUNSWICK: The Blue Devils are 6-2 with their only losses coming last weekend in Columbus. They’ve beaten Shaker Heights and rival Medina in Greater Cleveland Conference play behind senior Kyle Goessler, who recently scored his 1,000th career point. They take on Mentor tonight in a game that will show plenty about the league’s cream of the crop.
BRUSH: The Arcs have beaten their seven opponents by an average of 25 points per game, though playing in the Western Reserve Conference they’re likely the least-tested of the teams on this list. Brush did pass its biggest test, outlasting St. Edward 81-74 before Christmas.
ST. EDWARD: The Eagles were surprised by Lorain in last year’s regional semi, but have impressed early. They soundly beat a really good Lakewood team in their opener, then followed that with an easy win over Toledo St. John. St. Ed’s just went 3-1 in its annual trip to the Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
LUTHERAN EAST: The Falcons are 4-3, but their losses are by an average of six points to three Classic participants — St. Ignatius, Lorain and Cleveland Heights. The Titans’ eight-point win Dec. 18 was by far their toughest test yet. Lorain’s beaten its eight foes by an average of 25 points.
CLEVELAND HEIGHTS: A date to circle — the Tigers host Lorain a week from tonight with eyes on challenging the Titans in the Lake Erie League.
KENNEDY CATHOLIC (HERMITAGE, PA.): The Eagles have won three straight small-school championships and have three Division I players, including Oscar Tshiebwe, a West Virginia commit.
And some players to watch this weekend, in an admittedly loaded field in which here’s not enough room to highlight all those deserving:
ANDRE HARRIS, BRUSH: The Wright State commit has had some big games this season, including scoring 25 a win over St. Ed’s.
DEVON GRANT, LORAIN: We know the drill by now — Grant’s averaging over 28 points per game for the Titans, who’ve looked even better than last year’s dominant team.
MIKE BEJELKA, SOLON: The Fairmont State commit has taken over the Comets’ go-to role for Sincere Carry, who’s now playing well at Division I Duquesne. Bejelka does it all – he’s a pinpoint marksman from 3-point range and possesses the ability to get to the basket.
JARRED LOGAN, ELYRIA CATHOLIC: With Dorian Crutcher playing at the next level, Logan and junior post Branson Wright have taken on more responsibility for the Panthers. That duo will look to help their team right the ship — the Panthers have lost five of six during a brutal two-week holiday stretch, and now must play St. Ignatius on Sunday night.
CJ CHARLESTON, GILMOUR: The guard scored 31 against another Classic participant, Akron Buchtel, in last week’s NEO Showcase at Garfield Heights.
SONNY JOHNSON JR., GARFIELD HEIGHTS: The freshman guard already has seven Division I offers, including from Eastern Michigan and Youngstown State.
CHRIS LIVINGSTON, BUCHTEL: The 6-foot-5 freshman guard is turning plenty of heads in the Akron City Series and beyond.
TIM SMITH, LAKEWOOD: Smith leads a trio of athletic, tall players with 6-4 Zion Kolodynski-Darby and 6-8 Tommy Sala that has the Rangers once again atop the Southwestern Conference.
The 11th annual Play by Play Classic
WHEN: Saturday and Sunday
WHERE: Elyria Catholic
TICKETS: $12 at door; all purchasers receive a wristband for re-entry
3 p.m. — Olmsted Falls vs. Brunswick
4:45 p.m. — Shaker Heights vs. Richmond Heights
6:30 p.m. — Lutheran East vs. Lakewood
8:15 p.m. — Canton McKinly vs. Cleveland Heights
10:15 a.m. — John Hay vs. Gilmour
Noon — Solon vs. Lake Catholic
1:45 p.m. — St. Edward vs. Kennedy Catholic
3:30 p.m. — St. Vincent St. Mary vs. Lorain
5:15 p.m. — Garfield Heights vs. Brush
7 p.m. — St. Ignatius vs. Elyria Catholic
8:30 p.m. — Buchtel vs. First Love
- Boys basketball: Elyria Catholic's slide continues in loss to St. Ignatius at Play-by-Play Classic
- Boys basketball: Lorain suffers first loss of the season at Play-by-Play Classic
- Boys basketball: Lorain's Devon Grant named Lorain County Mr. Basketball
- Boys basketball: Elyria Catholic to host prestigious tournament in January