INDEPENDENCE—Survive and advance, that’s the only thing that matters in the postseason.
Independence lived by that motto in a 38-34 win over visiting Kidron Central Catholic in a Division III sectional semifinal. The Blue Devils led by eight at halftime then held off the Comets down the stretch to claim just their sixth postseason win since moving up to Division III in 2002.
“You’re always pleased when you get to advance and play another day,” said Independence coach Hugh McMahon. “Sometimes, we just have lulls as far as our intensity offensively and some lapses here and there defensively. Giving up (just 34) points is great. I think we could have been stronger with a few things and finished a little bit more but it’s the first taste of real tournament basketball for a couple guys. Last year in our sectional semifinals game we lost by one so I’m really happy they were able to gut it out and pull it out at the end.”
Jack Ksiazka scored the first four points of the game and Andrew Teribery added five points to give the Blue Devils an early 11-4 lead.
Kyle Stefanski, who last week reached the 1,000-point milestone in his career, then hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give Independence its biggest lead at 24-12 midway through the second quarter. Stefanski finished with a game-high 13 points.
“Kyle’s been doing that for a while now,” McMahon said. “I think the guys look to him but there are other guys on the team that can step up and put the ball in the hole as well and they have to when the shots are open because teams start to key on Kyle.”
The Blue Devils held a 27-19 advantage at halftime.
Kidron Central Christian made its run in the second half.
The Comets scored the first eight points of the third quarter to tie the game at 27-27 but Akhil Patel scored on a layup and Wyatt Flynn added a basket and a free throw to leave the Blue Devils in front, 32-27 heading into the fourth.
Stefanski hit a 3-pointer and finished with four of Independence’s six fourth-quarter points in the final eight minutes of play.
“He did hit some big shots for us but we can’t relax on that,” McMahon said. “We’ve got to keep it going and everyone has to do their part. When there are open shots they have to take them. They’ll knock them down they just have to be confident in taking them.”
The Blue Devils, who improved to 8-15, advanced to Friday’s sectional championship game at Cuyahoga Heights (10-12).
Independence split its regular season series with the rival Redskins and McMahon hopes his players are ready for the third matchup.
“This is the rubber match,” he said. “I wonder if the kids were looking ahead a little bit. We were up decent at halftime but you can’t do that in tournament games. That’s a well-coached team and they played hard so we had to fight it out. We earned the right to go up there to the school to the north and knock them off.”