ELYRIA — Brett Larrick might be tired of seeing Strongsville on the other end of the court at tournament time.
Wednesday’s Division I sectional opener was the third straight time his Elyria Pioneers have been matched up with the Mustangs in the postseason and the Pioneers won the rubber match, escaping with a 54-49 win.
Elyria (9-14) advances to Saturday’s sectional final at Avon, while the Mustangs bow out at 1-22.
A year ago, the Mustangs came into the postseason with a similar resume that included two regular-season losses to the Pioneers — just like this year. But the 11th-seeded Mustangs were just starting to rear up.
They dumped Avon in the first round, upset the third-seeded Pioneers, stunned Midpark and had state-bound and No. 1 seed Lorain on the ropes before falling 58-55.
Strongsville had won only six games a year ago.
When the Mustangs began Wednesday’s game with a 10-0 lead, Larrick was probably thinking “Here we go again” but the Pioneers got on track began to creep back in the game thanks to their defense.
Sophomore Dez Shelton’s 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer gave Elyria its first lead at 20-19.
“It was a big momentum-changer coming into halftime because we had a bad first quarter,” said Shelton, who finished with 10 points. “We weren’t making any shots. We weren’t attacking the hoop. We were shooting a bunch of threes and not getting to the hole at all.”
“That was definitely a big shot by Dez to go into halftime with the lead with how we played offensively,” Larrick said. “Our defense kept us in it. Second quarter, we missed five layups and a couple putbacks.”
Offensively, the Pioneers didn’t attack Strongsville’s zone defense. Instead, they passed the ball around the perimeter and never challenged the Mustangs inside. The Pioneers scored only four points in the first quarter.
Defensively, Elyria was solid, forcing 18 turnovers, some of which led to easy baskets before the Mustangs could get back into their zone.
“Our guys really pressured,” Larrick said. “We had to pick up the tempo because it was tough for us to score. Our guys did a really good job switching up defenses, traps — four of five defenses we called. We were on the same page for all of it.”
The second half was better for the Pioneers. Their eight-point run midway through the third quarter put them up 33-26.
MarSaun Robinson and Caleb Rogers had 3-pointers around a Robinson steal and layup. Shelton added another 3-pointer after Strongsville scored to put Elyria up by 36-28 but the Mustangs finished the third quarter with a Jalen Garner 3-pointer and a layup from Drew Lipsowski to keep it close.
The Pioneers never did quite shake loose from the Mustangs but never gave up the lead in the final quarter. Elyria hit just enough free throws to stay ahead and snap a four-game losing streak.
Robinson, who led the scoring with 13 points, was 3-of-5 at the line. Rogers hit both of his while Shelton and Josiah Grantham spilt a pair.
“Honestly, I should have made all of mine,” Robinson said. “I’ll work on it.”
It may not have been a work of art, but several Pioneers contributed to the win. Grantham finished with 10 points and eight rebounds, while Will Waddell had nine rebounds and two points. Rogers and Shelton each had 10 points while Jahkai Owens pulled in a half-dozen rebounds. Jesse Stevens gave Elyria good minutes off the bench.
“Nine times in three years,” Larrick said of the battles with Strongsville. “You don’t get that in high school. Weathered it the first year, last year they got us. This was a big win for us.”
Elyria 54, Strongsville 49
STRONGSVILLE (49): Drew Lipowski 3-2-8, Timmy Ruch 0-1-1, Kevin Cendroski 3-0-8, Jalen Garner 7-4-19, Kevin Lawler 3-0-6, Caleb Warren 1-3-5, Shane Slokar 1-0-2, Saaid Ahmad 0-0-0. Totals 18-10-49.
ELYRIA (54): Aiden Carter 2-3-7, MarSaun Robinson 4-4-13, Caleb Rogers 3-2-10, Josiah Grantham 4-1-10, Will Waddell 1-0-2, Jahkai Owens 1-0-2, Dez Shelton 3-1-10, Jesse Stevens 0-0-0. Totals 18-11-54.
Strongsville 12 7 14 16 — 49
Elyria 4 16 16 18 — 54
Three-point goals: Strongsville 3-16 (Cendroski 2, Garner). Elyria 7-20 (Shelton 3, Rogers 2, Robinson, Grantham). Field goals: Strongsville 18-44 (41 percent), Elyria 18-45 (40 percent). Free throws: Strongsville 10-14 (71 percent), Elyria 11-20 (55 percent). Rebounds: Strongsville 31 (Warren 8), Elyria 32 (Waddell 9). Turnovers: Strongsville 18, Elyria 12. Fouls: Strongsville 17, Elyria 15. Technical foul: Rogers.