CANFIELD, Ohio (WKBN) Despite losing to the Raiders twice during the regular season and losing one of their top players, the sixth seeded United Eagles battled to the final minutes of their Division III sectional game Friday night at South Range. The fifth seeded Raiders prevailed for a hard-fought 62-53 victory, and face the number one seeded Massillon Tuslaw Mustangs Tuesday night at Salem.
“They did a nice job. They came with something to prove because we had gotten after them pretty good two games in a row,” Raiders coach John Cullen said. “And they did what they needed to do, their penetration hurt us, they made smart passes, they responded to the dibble and they were very well prepared. Give all the credit to them, they did a nice job.”
“It was a team effort. I told them that in the locker room at the end of the game that I’m so stinking proud of them. They can look to the left and look to the right and say that we left it on the floor tonight,” Eagles coach Chris Kadvan said proudly. “We’ve been underdogs all season, there are not a lot of people outside this group of men, this team, and this community that thought we were going to be in this game. We believed tonight.”
It wasn’t until fourth quarter that the Raiders seemed to be able to distance themselves from the Eagles, and even then, the Eagles made one last charge by cutting the deficit down to just five-points with one minute remaining in the contest on a 3-point basket by Caleb Berdine. But the Raiders’ Preston Stitt sank four free throws in the last 40-seconds to seal the victory.
“My goal as the point guard is just play a good floor game and then as a senior I’m the most experienced so when it comes down to the fourth quarter grind that’s when I’m expected to step up and lead,” Stitt explained.
The game had an auspicious start for the Eagles as their standout sophomore forward Kaden Smith fell hard on the floor after tripping on a rebound attempt. He hit his head hard on the court floor and suffered concussion symptoms according to the Eagles coaching staff.
“Kaden and Jake (Clark) are our leading scorers, he’s are leading rebounder, blocks, but without him out there we had the next guy step up. It was next man up. We had a lot of people step up to fill his void,” Kadvan said.
Those players did step up as the Eagles only trailed the Raiders by 5-points at they end of the first quarter 14-19, and just by three points at halftime at 28-31. The two teams played at a slower pace in the third frame as the Raiders outscored the Eagles 10-7 and held a 41-35 advantage at the close of the frame.
But in the fourth the Raiders were able to pull out to a 14-point, 52-38 lead courtesy of a three-pointer by Stitt and two consecutive baskets by Dan Ritter with just over five minutes remaining in the game. That is when the Eagles made their final charge only to see Stitt sink his free throw opportunities.
“We were trying to spread them out, and they had to be more gamble oriented on defense. We missed a couple layups that could have helped along the way, but the whole situation is you have to pass the ball with some efficiency and finish and we didn’t finish very well till the very end and that allowed us to put it away,” Cullen explained.
Brandon Youngs would lead the Raiders in scoring on the night as he netted 19 while Stitt added 14 and Dan Ritter chipped in with 13. Ritter would also grab 9 rebounds to pace the Raiders on the boards while Youngs added 5.
The loss overshadowed a tremendous performance by the Eagles Jake Clark who scored 22 points and hauled down 8 rebounds on the night. Caleb Berdine also scored in double digits as he netted 11 points.
“Well, we’re kind of rolling skating a buffalo herd with playing it, but the bottom line is we’re going to be on the other end of it. We’re going to be the team that they expect to beat. What we have to make sure that we are getting the shots that we want, not the shots they want us to take,” Cullen said of playing the top seeded Mustangs Tuesday night.
“The beginning of that game is very important. I call it monster control. We have got to create a monster that they are going to realize that holy cow we’re in a dog fight here, then in the second half we will have to play sixteen minutes of basketball better than they do,” he added.