While most of Kirtland’s basketball players were focused on leading the Hornets’ football team back to the state championship game for the fourth straight season last fall junior Cole DiFabio was in the gym fine tuning his shot.
His off-season work finally paid off in the form of a career and game-high 17 points as the Hornets knocked off Cuyahoga Heights on Friday, 51-43.
“I was looking for a game from Cole like that,” said Kirtland coach Nick Gallo. “He’s just a basketball player. He’s not one of our football guys. He came in this summer and just worked his tail off. From the moment I got the job in June he was in the gym working his tail off and getting those extra shots and it finally paid off. I’m glad to see it because he’s a really nice kid and he’s going to be huge for us the rest of this season and beyond into next year.”
Cuyahoga Heights jumped out to a 15-8 lead after the first quarter but the Hornets finally solved the Redskins’ zone defense and won the second quarter, 19-9, to take a 27-24 lead into halftime.
“They kind of zoned us all night and we did some nice things against the zone,” Gallo said. “We hit a couple of threes early but Sam Skiljan was really a presence in the middle of that zone attacking, getting to the rim and just drawing guys.”
Skiljan finished the game with eight points but set up his teammates for several easy shots. Matt Grazia was one of the beneficiaries of Skiljan’s inside distribution. He finished the game with 15 points.
“It wasn’t even the scoring that I was even impressed with,” Gallo said of Grazia. “I thought he was a really good floor general for us. He knocked down a couple threes early but everything was within the confines of how we wanted to approach the basketball game. He had some great drive and kicks for jumpers and drawing attention. He was really sound for us on both ends of the floor. We need that from him because he makes us go.”
Meanwhile, Kirtland’s defense held Cuyahoga Heights standouts Isaiah Barnes and David Porter to just 9 and 12 points, respectively.
“It was a really good win,” Gallo said. “Barnes and Porter are two really nice players. To get a win against a Cuyahoga Heights team that is very well-coached is great for our program.”
The Hornets improved to 6-5 on the year and remain in the race for the Chagrin Valley Conference Valley Division title. Berkshire, who defeated the Hornets 65-53 last week and topped Hawken on Friday, is in first place but the Hornets aren’t far behind.
“It’s a huge win for us,” Gallo said. “Obviously them knocking off Hawken makes things very interesting going forward and our Independence game on Tuesday is a must-win for us. We know for us to play these pressure games, we know we have to play well and win these games. It’s going to be fun down the stretch. Berkshire is playing some good basketball. It’s going to come down to who is playing the best basketball at the end of the year when we play Berkshire at their place.”