Saturday, May 27

    Independence rally falls short at CCA

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    WILLOUGHBY HILLS—Independence’s fourth-quarter rally temporarily gave the Blue Devils the lead over host Cornerstone Christian Academy but the Patriots responded with a run of their own to regain the lead and held on for a 68-61 victory in a Division IV sectional championship game on Friday.

    With the loss, Independence’s season came to an end. The Blue Devils finished the year with a 12-11 record.

    “I can’t be more proud of a group of kids,” said Independence coach Kyle Johnson. “They battled to the end. They executed the game plan offensively and defensively to a tee. I don’t think we lost the game, I think Cornerstone won the game, and as a coach, that’s all you can ask for your is your kids to play hard and execute.”

    Cornerstone got off to a hot start as the Patriots used a 7-0 run to set the tone for the night.

    Jack Taliaferro and Aidan Coljohn both hit 3-pointers to help the Blue Devils battle their way back into the game.

    Independence trailed at the end of the first quarter, 16-14.

    The Patriots added to their lead in the second quarter and took a 31-27 lead into the locker room.

    During the first half, the Blue Devils struggled to counter the length of Cornerstone’s D.J. Niles, who controlled the paint with his 6-foot-5 frame.

    Johnson made several adjustments at the break, including a plan to take Niles out of the game.

    “We adjusted and just stayed on him,” Johnson said. “We kind of just stayed attached to him and didn’t switch off of him. We kept our big guys on him and Michael (Tommer) and Braden (Flynn) did a nice job of containing him.”

    Coljohn scored eight points in the third quarter and Kyle Zygmunt added seven to help the Blue Devils pull to within 48-47 after three quarters.

    Casey McGhee hit a 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter to give the Blue Devils its first lead of the game and Coljohn added three more 3s to challenge the Patriots down the stretch.

    “Casey and Aidan and Kyle, really all the seniors, they knew it was crunch time and they had to step up,” Johnson said. “They did and gave us a chance.”

    After McGhee gave the Blue Devils their first lead, the Patriots came right back with a 3-pointer and then a steal on the ensuing inbounds pass that led to an easy layup.

    Coljohn, who finished with a game-high 22 points, hit a 3-pointer to regain the lead temporarily but again the Patriots responded with a four-point to take the lead for good.

    Zygmunt also scored in double figures with 16 points. Landon Jatsek contributed with seven, Flynn finished with six, Taliaferro added five, McGhee scored three points, and Tommer pitched in with two.

    The loss closed out the careers of Independence’s seniors, who closed out their careers with a four-year record of 51-40. They won 12 games or more in their final three seasons.

    “I told the guys after the game that this group of seniors put Independence basketball on the map and made it relevant,” Johnson said. “They’ve been playing together since they were in first or second grade and I just don’t have enough nice things to say about them. They came to work every day and played basketball the right way. Even more than basketball, they’re great human beings and my own kids looked up to them. As a dad, you can take the coach part out of it, that’s all you ever want is for your kids to be around great role models. They’re just a bunch of fantastic kids.”

    Steve Hare
    The creator and publisher of, Hare has covered high school sports in Northeast Ohio since 1997. He began as a correspondent for the Lake County News Herald, where he contributed until 2011, primarily covering high school football and wrestling. In 1999, Hare began writing for, a member of the network of high school and college sports web sites. He focuses on covering Notre Dame football recruiting. was created in 2004 and was a member of the network until 2012. The site's original purpose was to cover Ohio high school football and recruiting news but since has grown to cover all sports and to provide sports information services to high school athletic programs and individual teams. Hare attended Willoughby South High School through the middle of his senior year, then graduated from Berkshire High School in Burton in 1986. He played football, wrestled and was an all-Geauga county baseball player (1986). He lives in Chardon with his wife Paulette and their children.

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