CANTON—The wait was worth it for the Cuyahoga Heights faithful on Wednesday at the Canton Memorial Fieldhouse.
Playing in their first regional tournament since 1997, the Red Wolves used an aggressive defensive and clutch shooting to pull away from Chagrin Valley Conference rival Beachwood in a Division III regional semifinal, 58-33.
“I’m speechless,” said Cuyahoga Heights coach Michael Tartara. “I’m speechless. I think we’ve been waiting for this for a long time.”
With the win, the Red Wolves extended its school-record win total to 23 with a chance to make it 24 in Saturday’s regional final against Lutheran East, a 61-36 winner over Lake Catholic in the other semifinal.
Credit Cuyahoga Heights’ 2-3 zone for season-low 33 points and for holding sharpshooting standout Nathan Lurie to just nine points in the game.
“I honestly don’t pay attention to that stuff, I pay attention to our guys and the things that we do or don’t do and try to correct it,” Tartara said. “The fact that he had a tough game shooting the ball, I’d like to give our guys some of the credit. We talked about how he gets shots off and we had coaches out scouting. Coach (Al) Martin has been a mentor to me at Cuyahoga Heights and he does it with the football program and he shows me the right way to do that, and I have the best staff in Northeast Ohio. They do so much in so many different ways from the middle school level all the way up to high school from shooting in the morning and breaking down film. Without them, we wouldn’t have a chance, that’s a true statement.”
Wednesday’s regional semifinal began with six lead changes before a Nate Biggers 3-pointer to kick off the second quarter gave the Red Wolves a 15-12 lead and they never looked back.
Cade Davies hit a 3-pointer just before the second-quarter buzzer to push the Heights lead to 25-19 at the break.
The Red Wolves then controlled the second half on both ends of the court and finished the game by outscoring Beachwood in the final 16 minutes, 33-14.
Biggers led all scorers with 21 points while Kaelib Graaf and Braylan McClardy also scored in double figures with 11 and 10 points, respectively. Davies finished with six, Eli Walton and Ce’Chawn Moss both pitched in with four, and Kyle Porter scored two points.
Walton had several key plays that resulted in transition baskets for the Red Wolves.
“When they start to get those stops and get touches and loose balls on defense and Eli starts getting going, he’s really good at finishing with both hands,” Tartara said. “When he was going up to finish with the right and then switched it to the left, their defense gets a little frustrated. That’s when I kind of felt like he made some big plays and his confidence shot through the roof. He got one or two more after that. I’m just supremely proud of the boys and their effort. It’s surreal.”
Joshua Jones led Beachwood with 10 points, Lurie finished with nine, Noah Page added eight, and Michael Keselman finished with six for the Bison, who closed out their season with a 17-9 record and a district title to their credit.
The Red Wolves now look to continue their historic season with another bar-raising win on Saturday against the Falcons, who finished the regular season ranked third in the state.
Every win adds to Tartara’s school-record career win total and increases the program’s single-season wins record.
“Bob Coy held the record before and God rest his soul, he’s a good man,” Tartara said. “I want to make sure everybody knows that.
Coy recorded 180 wins from 1964-1981. Tartara now has 220 wins in 18 seasons.
“This year, these guys said it all along, this is our chance and this is our opportunity,” Tartara said. “They’ve proven it game in and game out. It’s been a special year.”