North Ridgeville coach Bryan Morgan was optimistic entering the season, despite having to replace MJ Smith’s 20 points per game. Morgan thought the Rangers’ supporting cast was vastly improved and that’s proved to be the case.
On paper, the Rangers (9-5, 7-3 Southwestern Conference) appear to be a one-man show, with Jeremy Sanchez among the best players in the county, averaging 17 points, five rebounds and four assists per game.
But Ridgeville is getting key contributions from its next four players, which has been vital in the team’s recent run. The Rangers have won seven of their last eight games, including an impressive victory over previously red-hot Midview on Tuesday.
The run also includes a couple of wild finishes. Against Avon Lake on Jan. 4, the Rangers outscored the Shoremen 30-10 over the game’s final 12 minutes. North Ridgeville also turned on the jets against Westlake on Jan. 15, outscoring the Demons by 16 over the game’s final 10 minutes.
“New faces have been playing very well down the stretch in these games to keep this run going,” Morgan said.
That group includes senior shooting guard Jason Vrba, who’s shooting 42 percent (32-of-77) from 3-point range, and made six apiece in wins over Parma and Midview, the latter of which was key to beat the Middies suddenly strong zone defense.
Senior post Zach Perkins is shooting 62 percent from the field and has scored in double figures off the bench in six of their last seven games.
Junior guard Cole Payne has emerged as the Rangers’ second-leading scorer at just under 10 points per game, while senior post Noah Bayer has been a problem for opponents with his energy, defense and presence on the interior.
Ridgeville also benefits greatly from having another go-to player in Sanchez, who when The Chronicle-Telegram profiled him in a November SWC preview section spoke candidly about his battle to keep his emotions in check. He plays a fiery brand of basketball, which in the past had lent opposing teams the ability to get under his skin. So far, so good this year.
“Jeremy is a natural leader and has done a great job of handling his frustrations this year,” Morgan said. “He’s a fiery player that plays with a passion that’s tough to match. Our team rallies around him and each other. It’s been a great thing to watch the last month or so.”
The Rangers find themselves a game and a half behind Lakewood, which beat North Ridgeville on Friday, and a game behind Olmsted Falls in the Southwestern Conference race. The Rangers play each team again. North Ridgeville’s win over Midview on Tuesday helped the Rangers avenge a one-point loss to the Middies on Dec. 8 — a game in which Midview scored 17 of the final 21 points.