MANTUA—Kirtland made several key plays down the stretch to hold off a hot-shooting Crestwood team in a key Chagrin Valley Conference Valley Division matchup on Tuesday, 47-42.
“Anytime you come to Crestwood and come out with a ‘W’ you’ve got to feel good about it,” said Kirtland coach Shawn McGregor. “They’re so well-coached and they play hard. They run their offense really well and defensively, they stick you in a trap and get a lot of second-chance opportunities. They did so many good things but our kids battled the whole game and we made just enough plays at the end.”
Six different Hornets scored in the first period as Kirtland jumped out to a 16-8 lead.
The Red Devils then went on an 11-0 run to start the second period. Kirtland’s Brian Beres snapped that streak with a jumper six minutes into the quarter, but Crestwood took a 22-20 lead into the break.
“They switched up their defense a little bit and we got a little bit more passive against the zone,” McGregor said of the second-quarter struggles. “We started making some lazy plays and got a little bit lackadaisical and had some turnovers and they knocked down some shots.”
Crestwood freshman Dekota Johnson, who scored a game-high 20 points, hit an early 3-pointer in the second period and teammate Charlie Schweikert, who scored 19, added two more long-range shots to spark the 14-4 run.
“Their shooters got hot and knocked down some shots,” McGregor said. “They did a really good job of getting themselves back into the game and then it was a dogfight from there on out.”
Kirtland outscored Crestwood in the second half, 27-20.
The Hornets scored the final five points of the game.
Owen Mueller and Gage DiFabio both hit 3s in the fourth quarter and following a Vince Carriero steal with eight seconds left in the game, Mueller drained a pair of free throws into the teeth of the hostile Crestwood student section.
“We made some big steals and knocked down some shots to get us into a position to win that game,” McGregor said. “I’m proud of the way the kids played. It’s always a dogfight in the CVC Valley Division so I’m very happy to come away with a win.”
Kirtland led, 45-42 with 11 seconds in the game.
Crestwood was working to set up Johnson with a game-tying 3-pointer but Carriero stepped into the passing lane and denied the Red Devils that opportunity.
“Vince is just a freshman but he really does a good job of just slowing down the pace of the game,” McGregor said. “He’s a true point guard, and there aren’t many of those around, but he’s going to be a good one for years to come. That steal he made, that’s just what Vince does. He makes big plays. He’s small but he plays much bigger than his stature.”
Mueller led the Hornets with 12 points, Mason Rus contributed with eight, Ramon Lescano added six, and Ben Beres, Carriero, and DiFabio all finished with five.
Lescano locked down the sharpshooting Johnson in the closing seconds of the game.
“We wanted to make sure (Johnson) didn’t have any good looks and Ramon played good defense all night,” McGregor said. “We wanted to be sure we weren’t giving up anything on the perimeter and even though he hit some shots, we were able to defend well enough to get the ‘W.’
With the win, Kirtland improved to 3-3 overall and 3-1 in league play.
Crestwood still seeks its first win of the season but the Red Devils have lost four of eight games by five points or less.
“I’m super-pleased and proud of our effort,” Crestwood coach Josh Jakacki said. “Every game, they bring it. You wouldn’t know, based on our effort and our intensity, what our record is. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. We’ve got kids that are inexperienced right now and playing big moments in big games and at the end, that comes back to bite us in the butt.”
Despite the setback and lack of success early this season, the Red Devils are trending up, especially with two underclassmen leading the scoring.
“There’s no better teacher than experience,” Jakacki said. “We had opportunities but we’re not a team that’s going to pull away from teams. I’m just disappointed for the kids. They work so hard and they grind. We just have to learn from the mistakes.”