FINDLAY - The Toledo Area Athletic Conference chalked up an impressive comeback, then an even more impressive victory in the Division IV boys district basketball semifinals hosted by Liberty-Benton last night.
In the first game Cardinal Stritch came back from a 14-point deficit to tie its contest with Continental, only to see the Pirates recover for a 47-40 win.
In the nightcap Toledo Christian held North Baltimore star Josh Eichar to just 12 points and led from start to finish in a 67-53 victory.
As a result the Eagles (19-3) avenge an early-season loss to the Tigers and advance to Friday's district final against Continental (17-5).
The story behind Toledo Christian's victory over North Baltimore was the defense played by Blake Powell on Eichar, who had 33 points, eight rebounds and nine assists when the teams met Dec. 30.
Last night Eichar missed his first seven shots from the field and made just 4 for 13 overall to go with four assists, four rebounds and seven turnovers.
"In December we didn't defend a couple of things well, in particular the pick-and-roll," Toledo Christian coach Dave McWhinnie said. "Eichar just killed us on the pick-and-roll, and [in this game] I not sure he even scored one off that.
"Blake Powell is just a relentless worker, he's got great instincts, and I can't say enough about the effort he gave."
Powell said foul trouble in that December game kept him from covering Eichar as tightly as he wanted.
"I just decided I was going to give him the outside shot," Powell said. "I couldn't give him the dribble because he's good at finding people if he drives into the paint.
"He's a good player, and he was trying to win it by himself."
While Eichar and the Tigers were struggling, the Toledo Christian offense was extremely effective at breaking North Baltimore's press. The Eagles flew to an 18-9 lead after one quarter, thanks to the speed of their transition game and press-break.
They then used an 8-3 run to start the second quarter and never allowed the Tigers to come closer than eight points.
"Ryan Mathewson does a great job leading our press-break because he makes great decisions," McWhinnie said. "When teams press us, he does a great job of allowing us to get layups on the other end."
Powell finished with 20 points, and Jacob Weemes scored 12 of his 16 points in the second half for Toledo Christian. Kevin Sweet led North Baltimore (17-5) with 14 points, while Nick Brossia tied Eichar with 12.
In the first game, Continental's Scott Keck finished with seven 3-pointers and 28 points.
Continental jumped to a 15-7 lead in the first quarter thanks to two factors: Keck buried a trio of 3-pointers, and the Cardinals missed all but three of their 11 shots in the period.
The Pirates threatened to turn the contest into a rout, using two more 3-pointers by Keck to build a 26-12 advantage with
2:35 to play.
"I think we came out with a few jitters," Cardinal Stritch coach Jim Sheehy said. "We missed four or five nice-looking shots in the first quarter, shots we normally make.
"But we got back with it because of our heart."
Cardinal Stritch scored the final eight points of the half - Eric McCloskey accounted for five - to cut its deficit to 26-20.
"The game became a game at the end of the first half," Continental coach Kevin Homier said. "The lead should have been 18 or 20 - we had the chance. We did some subbing at the end of the first half, and it didn't do very well for us."
Stritch then scored the first five points of the third period to cut the Pirates' lead to a single digit with a 5:57 to play.
But that merely set the tone for the Cardinals' second-half frustrations. Every time Stritch came close, the Pirates would find a way to restore some of their lead.
The most painful example might have been when the Cardinals tied the score at 38 with
3:26 left, only to see Keck bury a 3-pointer that gave the Pirates the lead for good.
But it probably was the two times Stritch missed the front ends of one-and-one free throws when it trailed by one point with less than a minute to play that were most devastating.
"We missed a couple of front-ends down the stretch, and that obviously hurt us," Sheehy said. "And they made theirs.
"They were at the district finals when they were freshmen, and they reached the state finals when they were sophomores. They've been in a lot more big games than we have, and it showed. But I'm really proud of our young men."
In the final 30 seconds Continental twice made the front end of one-and-ones, then rebounded the missed second shot. As a result the Pirates made 6 of 8 free throws to ice the win.
McCloskey finished with 13 points but was the only player to finish in double figures for Cardinal Stritch (18-5).
Contact John Wagner at:
FAYETTE 67, MONTPELIER 56
NAPOLEON - Heath Armstrong hit all eight free throws and scored 24 points, and Gahlon Kunkle went 9 of 11 from the line and scored 21 to lead Fayette (15-7). Britt Barry led Montpelier (6-17) with 29.
HOLGATE 46, HICKSVILLE 36
NAPOLEON - Lee Brubaker scored 17 points and Logan Brubaker added 15 to pace Holgate (16-6). Josh Vandemark led Hicksville (12-10) with 12 points.
Each team had 18 rebounds, but Holgate forced 19 turnovers and committed only eight.
COLUMBUS GROVE 66, OTTOVILLE 50
ELIDA - Eric Maag scored 24 points and Kyle Meyer added 20 for Columbus Grove. Josh Vorst paced Ottoville with 18.
DELPHOS ST. JOHN'S 62, ARLINGTON 60
ELIDA - Derek Webb scored 23 points for Delphos St. John's. Nick Rode paced Arlington with 25.