KIRTLAND—The Kirtland basketball team has grown accustomed to starting its season later than most area teams but even the 2020-2021 campaign will go down as one of the strangest ever.
The Hornets tipped off their season back on Dec. 22 and played eight games before COVID shut down the school on Jan. 19.
Kirtland returned on Friday with a seven-point loss at Euclid but bounced back on Saturday with a 77-58 win over the red-hot Fairport Skippers, who had won seven of their last eight games.
“It’s really exciting,” said Kirtland coach Shawn McGregor of getting back on the court. “We talked about it coming in after the break about how this is like a second season for us and how lucky we are just to have the ability to play.”
The Hornets trailed after the first quarter, 15-13, but found their stride in the second thanks to an inside-out attack that led to 39-25 halftime lead.
T.J. Green, who scored a game-high 23 points, worked his way to the rim and scored on several putbacks and when he couldn’t get to the hoop, he kicked the ball outside and Joey Grazia and Gage DiFabio both hit big shots.
Grazia, who finished with 22 points, and DiFabio, who scored 15, both drained two 3-pointers in that second-quarter run.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am of everyone up and down the roster as far as our kids playing hard and coming out and dealing with adversity against Euclid, a big Division I team and we were within striking distance, and Fairport, who has won eight of their last nine or nine of their last 10 or whatever it might be, and to come out and do what we did today was really good,” McGregor said. “We talk about it all the time, our depth is our strength. We’ve got guys that can do a lot of different things on the floor and as long as we’re playing with confidence and we know what we’re doing with the ball and what we want to get accomplished, we do a good job of it.”
Green, Grazia and DiFabio combined for 60 of Kirtland’s 77 points but the rest of the Hornets contributed in other ways.
Mason and Gage Sullivan stood up Fairport’s bigger players and prevented them from driving the land and Anthony DeMarco helped to limit Chris Peoples to just 18 points.
“You’ve got defensive guys like Mason and Gage with his length, and guys that can hit big 3s and DiFabio coming off the bench and scoring 15 after playing limited minutes the day before. You talk about the kids’ character, coming out and show themselves, being ready, keeping themselves ready and making plays when we need them the most,” McGregor said. “T.J. has been a beast and (DeMarco), two nights in a row having to guard (Euclid’s Clayton) Cunningham and then Peoples tonight, that’s two of the better players in the area and he did a fantastic job. We pride ourselves on being deep and we pride ourselves on playing a lot of different guys just giving them an opportunity to make plays.”
Joe Tanker led Fairport with 20 points and Sam Honkala added nine.
Gage Sullivan contributed to Kirtland’s win with eight points.
Kirtland, who improved to 5-5, hosts Wickliffe on Tuesday.