Thursday, Apr 26, 2018
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St. John's forgotten man delivers against St. Ed's

This was midway through the fourth quarter, before the players from St. John's Jesuit sweated through the longest three minutes of their young lives.

Before Lakewood St. Edward, held to just 10 points in the first half, scored 18 in a flurry down the stretch.

Before the Titans went belly-up for a spell at the free throw line, before every pass became a turnover, every shot a miss, before a 17-point lead melted to five, before a laugher turned into high drama with thousands of Toledoans turning blue from holding their breaths.

Long, long before the Titans could exhale a long, loud sigh of relief and escape Savage Hall with a 58-48 victory in the semifinals of the Division I regional tournament.

Before all of that, the Titans forged a 47-30 lead on nerve and verve and fearlessness, not to mention the broad shoulders of the forgotten man.

First, back to the 4:00 mark.

Zach Hillesland had the ball along the baseline, appeared ready to pass back to a guard, then gave a head fake, spun and drove for a reverse layup.

Seconds later, after a steal, B.J. Raymond took a pass with his back to the basket on the right elbow, maybe 17 feet from the basket, turned immediately and launched a shot that found all net.

Hillesland and Raymond are sophomores. Maybe they're too young to know that with a double-digit lead and all the momentum late in a game you turn conservative, work the ball, milk the clock.

Maybe they'll learn. Hopefully they won't. Because it was refreshing to see young players willing to lay it all on the line, unafraid to make a mistake and, thus, making crucial contributions.

“They're both exceptional athletes and even better competitors,” said St. John's coach Ed Heintschel.

And they did what they have been doing all season for the Titans.

Boys to men.

And then there is the forgotten man.

Brandon Barabino was going to be a star on this Titan team. He was one of the few returning seasoned players from last year's squad that won its first 25 games before losing on a last-second shot to St. Ed on this same floor in this same tournament.

Barabino is 6-4 and almost weightless. He can jump out of the gym and moves like sap dripping from a maple tree, smooth and slick, sweet and fluid.

It figured nothing could stop him. Nothing but a broken leg suffered in a preseason scrimmage on Nov. 16, days short of his 18th birthday. It cost him 12 full games and he didn't return to the starting lineup until just before the City League playoffs.

“There was a lot I wanted to do my senior year, so it was a big disappointment,” he said. “But I had to handle it and I tried to take it like a man.”

Last night, for so much of the game, he was the man for the Titans.

He hit a 3-pointer as St. John's pulled away just before the half. And, midway through the third period, he scored six straight points, two on jump shots where he seemingly floated forever above the fray before displaying the most deft of shooting touches.

When he was done, the Titans led 30-16. When the game was done, Barabino had 14 points and a couple blocked shots and St. John's was 20-4 and alive to play again.

“We preach about facing adversity and overcoming adversity and Brandon has passed with flying colors,” Heintschel said. “He had a couple nice games when he came back, but he was a step slow and still faced a lot of hard work. Tonight, he was on top of his game. I'm really happy for him. And very proud of the way he stepped up in a big game.”

It's not often that a player has his coming out party in the 24th game of his senior year. But if this was Barabino's start, the Titans might not be finished for a while.

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