Kenston breaks through at South

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Kee-Shaun Merrill

WILLOUGHBY—South has enjoyed a comfortable home court advantage over Kenston ever since the Bombers joined the Western Reserve Conference in 2015.

That changed on Tuesday as Michael Swartz scored a game-high 23 points and Kee-Shaun Merrill added 15 to lead the Bombers to their first road win over the Rebels.

“This was a big one for us,” said Kenston coach Matt Vespa. “Since we’ve been in the conference, we haven’t won in this gym. We talked before the game about every time we go in this locker room we have a miserable experience so let’s have a party in here in about an hour and a half.”

That party started when Ryan Kooser dumped the water cooler on Vespa’s head after the Bombers collected their fifth straight win of the season.

“I’ll take a bath every time we get a win,” Vespa said. “This was really big for us to beat a really good South team and keep that momentum going.”

South used a 5-0 first quarter run to build a 23-20 lead over Kenston but Swartz got hot in the second quarter and helped the Bombers take a 43-30 lead into the locker room.

Swartz scored 13 of his 23 in the second including Kenston’s final 11 points of the half.

“He’s a guy that can really get going,” Vespa said. “He can shoot the ball and we told him to shoot and be aggressive. Early on, he wasn’t shooting it as well as he could but once he gets going he’s tough to stop and that kind of spaces the floor and opens everything up for us.”

Merrill also contributed to Kenston’s first half lead with seven points in the first quarter and, more importantly, he helped shut down South’s top scorers.

Norm Hughes scored just six of his team-high 15 in the first half and Damien Williams finished the game with 12 for the Rebels.

“To me, Kee-Shaun is what has led to this streak that we’ve had because he’s a guy that does everything,” Vespa said. “When he does that, Swartz can focus on shooting the ball, Tyran (Smith) is able to focus on guarding the ball and Kooser can focus on posting up. He played phenomenal. He did a great job last week against (Chardon standout Alex) Sulka and tonight he had Norm for a little bit and did a great job.”

South outscored Kenston in the fourth quarter, 20-13, but the Bombers did what they had to do to hold off the Rebels down the stretch to earn a split of the season series.

Kooser finished with 13 points for the Bombers while Smith and Ben Batista both contributed with six.

Kenston improved to 11-6 overall and 6-4 in the WRC.

“This is kind of what we envisioned, clicking at the right time and playing defensively as hard as we can and then just moving the ball,” Vespa said. “It’s a different guy every night, so it’s hard. I know most people focus on Kooser, and rightfully so, but we’ve got a bunch of guys that can really score the ball and make plays and I think we’re seeing that now.”

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The creator and publisher of OhioVarsity.com, 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 IrishIllustrated.com, a member of the Scout.com network of high school and college sports web sites. He focuses on covering Notre Dame football recruiting. OhioVarsity.com was created in 2004 and was a member of the Rivals.com 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.