ELYRIA — The unthinkable happened Saturday night at the Elyria Catholic Coliseum.
Olmsted Falls needed to play the perfect game — and did — to beat prohibitive favorite Lorain 60-53 for the Division I district championship in front of a stunned standing-room-only crowd.
It’ll be the Bulldogs against Barberton at Akron on Thursday night in the regional semifinals.
The Titans were the defending district champs and seemed destined to make a second straight trip to Columbus, hoping to finish business this time with a state title. Olmsted Falls was having none of that.
Ironically, both of Lorain’s losses came on the Coliseum floor.
The Titans lost at the Play-by-Play classic 82-75 to St. Vincent-St. Mary. The Titans (23-2) had won 14 straight.
How did the Bulldogs (23-2) pull the rug out from under the top-seeded Titans, who are ranked fourth in the state?
- They scored the game’s first six points and led 14-4 after five minutes.
- They held Lorain without a field goal until Deonte Benejan beat the buzzer to end the first quarter with the Titans down 21-8. Lorain had six free throws to that point and missed its first 15 shots.
- They ran their offense to perfection, getting layup after layup with crisp passing to beat Lorain’s defense on the backside.
- They withstood all of Lorain’s runs — the last one a 10-0 surge that trimmed a one-time 16-point cushion to 51-49 with 5:50 left. The Bulldogs answered with eight points to build the lead back to 59-49 at the 2:15 mark.
- They held Lorain to 17 field goals in 61 attempts and just two 3-pointers in 23 tries. That’s 28 percent overall and 9 percent from three.
“We didn’t shoot it well,” Lorain coach John Rositano said. “We shot 26 percent in the first half and that got us on our heels a little bit. (The Bulldogs) were the aggressor. They hit us on a couple back cuts. I didn’t think it was our defense as much as we just had a hard time scoring.”
Olmsted Falls certainly didn’t. The Bulldogs were 55 percent from the floor, most of them easy layups out of their well-organized offense.
Falls never trailed, and it might have been the first game all year Lorain appeared tentative on offense.
“Once we got down, we pressed a little bit,” Rositano said. “We got a little antsy. District championship games, it’s tough to play from behind like that when you’re not shooting well and it puts the onus on everything else.”
Senior Devon Grant led Lorain with 20 points, but it was perhaps his most difficult game. He missed his first three 3-point attempts and his first five shots overall as the Bulldogs played aggressively on defense all night. For the game, Grant was 5-of-17 from the floor, including 2-of-8 from the 3-point line. He declined comment after the game.
Six-foot-6 senior Trevon Pierre-Louis finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds. But Lorain lost the rebound battle 39-29, with 6-4 Falls senior Gavin Dietrich getting 16 and 6-3 senior Ryan Higginbotham 10. Pierre-Louis also declined to comment.
The rest of the Titans combined for just 14 points.
“We’ve got really good players on our team,” said Higginbotham, who scored eight of Olmsted Falls’ first 10 points on baseline layups to set the tone. “They were worried about other guys. If they’re going to leave me open, I have to do it.”
Dietrich didn’t care who got the credit, he just was happy with the way the team performed.
“Them pressuring us, we were able to get more spacing to our screens, more driving lanes and open up threes for our shooters,” he said. “I’m just trying to fill my role.”
Falls was patient when it needed to be but would speed up the game when the opportunities were there. Coach Chris DeLisio admitted the game plan took execution.
Lorain opened the district semifinal with Avon by scoring the first 13 points. DeLisio knew his team had to start fast to stay in it.
“I think that set the tone for the game,” DeLisio said. “Lorain is like us to an extent. They like to pressure teams right away and seeing if a team will succumb to that pressure. We were fortunate our guys did a great job of handling the pressure and we got wide-open layups. I think that backed them off a little bit.”
“Give credit to (Falls),” Rositano said. “They got a lead on us and they stayed really disciplined and made it tough for us.”
After the win, Falls celebrated with its family and friends. No one seemed to want to leave.
“It’s pretty unreal right now,” said 6-0 senior Michael Fritz, who led the Bulldogs with 17 points. “We’ve worked so hard in practice and we’ve been preparing for this game since last year.
“I think everybody was kind of sleeping on us. They said Olmsted Falls is about to get hammered by Lorain. Our goal was to just come out and punch them in the face.”
Olmsted Falls 60, Lorain 53
OLMSTED FALLS (60): Eric Hanna 3-3-11, Ryan Higginbotham 5-1-11, Braden Galaska 2-1-5, Michael Fritz 6-3-17, Gavin Dietrich 4-0-9, Chuck Backus 1-3-5, Austin Stefan 1-0-2. Totals 22-11-60.
LORAIN (53): Jordan Jackson 1-1-3, Taevon Pierre-Louis 9-1-19, Devon Grant 5-8-20, Deonte Benejan 2-4-8, Kam Davis 0-3-3, Aaron Whitehead 0-0-0, Aiden Brown 0-0-0. Totals 17-17-53.
Olmsted Falls 21 11 19 9 — 60
Lorain 8 19 16 10 — 53
Three-point goals: Olmsted Falls 5-12 (Hanna 2, Fritz 2, Dietrich), Lorain 2-23 (Grant 2). Field goals: Olmsted Falls 22-40 (55 percent), Lorain 17-61 (28 percent). Free throws: Olmsted Falls 11-17 (65 percent), Lorain 17-20 (85 percent). Rebounds: Olmsted Falls 39 (Dietrich 16), Lorain 29 (Pierre-Louis 11). Turnovers: Olmsted Falls 20, Lorain 12. Fouls: Olmsted Falls 18, Lorain 14.