Toledo Christian has been upgrading its boys basketball program in recent years, and the results have been evident with four straight trips to the Division IV district finals.
Last night the Eagles took another step upward in their climb, competing in the Knight Christmas Classic at St. Francis de Sales. Although TC fell short, losing 75-68 in overtime to perennial Cleveland-area Division II power Olmsted Falls, the Eagles are likely to grow from the experience.
Olmsted Falls has reached nine regionals during the run of 20th-year Bulldogs coach Pat Donahue, mostly in D-I and most recently in 2007 in D-II.
But that lofty resume didn't seem to intimidate Toledo Christian (2-2) in this entertaining back-and-forth battle, which included 16 lead changes and 10 ties.
Olmsted Falls (3-3) will face host St. Francis (2-2) in tonight's 7:45 p.m. tourney title game. Toledo Christian will play Anthony Wayne in the 6 p.m. consolation game.
"Olmsted Falls is a really good team, and they've been to the regionals a few times," Eagles coach Dave McWhinnie said. "It was a great ballgame, back and forth all game. We just didn't make a couple plays down the stretch.
"I give our kids credit for fighting back, and it was a great atmosphere. That's why we came here. We're a little disappointed not winning but, hopefully, this will make us better for league play and in [tourney play in] March."
Toledo Christian, which held a 34-33 halftime lead, rallied from an eight-point third-quarter deficit to take a 50-49 lead late in the quarter on Ethan Michael's bucket, then rallied from down 57-52 with 6:00 left in the fourth quarter to retake the lead.
Three times in the closing two minutes of regulation, the Eagles held leads only to watch the Bulldogs pull even and eventually force overtime.
Michael, TC's 6-7 Air Force-bound senior forward, turned in a solid 20-point, 13-rebound performance. But it was Michael's passing that put the Eagles in position to win late.
Michael fed Cory Brittenham for a layup for a 58-57 lead with 2:35 to play, then threw another nifty assist pass to Levi Hut-
macher for a three-point lead 35 seconds later.
After the Bulldogs' Colin Barth hit the 11th of his team's 12
3-pointers to tie it at 60 with
1:26 left in regulation, Brittenham (six points) and Hutmacher (12 points) sandwiched baskets around one from Olmsted Falls' Orlando Glenn to keep TC up 64-62 with 27 seconds to go.
But Tony Lanza, who hit five 3-pointers en route to a team-high 17 points, lofted a lob pass to Scott Kimmey for a layup with 10 seconds left in regulation.
In the extra period, Kimmey came alive, scoring seven unanswered points, one on a 3-pointer, to give his team a lead it would not relinquish.
"Whoever scores at the beginning of overtime is usually going to win the game," Michael said, "and we didn't score first."
Counting the lob layup that forced overtime, Kimmey scored nine of his 13 points in a span of 1:29. His bucket off a lob from John Atkinson 1:19 into OT capped that spurt and put Olmsted Falls ahead 71-64.
"We came out hard and then lost our composure a little and didn't make the shots we wanted," Michael said. "I take personal responsibility for that. I didn't make the shots I needed to make for my team to win.
"I'm not happy with the loss, but that's OK. We'll get better from it."
Toledo Christian pulled within 71-68 after buckets from Grant Sims (15 points) and Hutmacher, the latter with 1:50 left in OT, but failed to score thereafter.
Barth added 12 points for the Bulldogs (3-3), and teammate Steve Battaglia had 11 points and eight rebounds.
The Eagles shot 57 percent (30 of 53) from the field and edged Olmsted Falls 30-29 in rebounding, but the difference was the Bulldogs' marksmanship beyond the arc. The Bulldogs shot 48 percent from the field, including 12-of-26 (46 percent) on 3-pointers. TC was 3-of-8 outside the arc.
"Maybe we ran out of gas, I don't know," McWhinnie said. "But I thought our kids played hard and fought to the end."