First, the Cardinals took off early to grab what appeared to be a safe 42-22 lead with less than two minutes left in the first half, then withstood a Panther rally to win going away, 81-65.
Brookside is 7-0 for the first time since its legendary 1964 team won its first 20 games before losing at the Baldwin-Wallace “AA” district semifinal to Elyria.
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The Cardinals won 38 and lost just twice in a two-year span back then. Coach Brent Schremp, a great player in his own right for the Cardinals a decade ago, has been reminded of the past.
“Those teams in the ’60s were good teams,” Schremp said. “The great thing with this group is they’re focused on one game at a time. It’s been a heck of a week for us. We’ve got two victories under our belts (Avon and EC) and they’re focused on the next one (Keystone on Friday).”
The Cardinals certainly had the Panthers on the ropes early on. They hit 10 of 16 field-goal attempts in the first quarter to quickly build a 23-12 cushion. Hunter Skolnicki had nine points and a couple of steals in the first quarter and 15 points by halftime.
Six-foot-5 senior Nathan Keith battled EC’s 6-5 sophomore sensation Jeremy Holley inside for 14 points and four rebounds and Mat Gorta, just coming back after a bout with pneumonia, made his presence felt off the bench with nine points and six rebounds in the half.
Those three combined for 63 of Brookside’s points with Skolnicki getting 24, Keith 20 and Gorta 19. Alex Robinson chipped in nine, including three of four foul shots in the final minute.
“We talked about coming out with a purpose,” Schremp said. “We wanted to really pressure their guards and make it hard to get it inside to Holley. We came out like gangbusters.”
The Panthers committed 13 turnovers in the first half — eight in the second quarter. Brookside appeared to be on the verge of a blowout win but EC (6-3) had other ideas.
The Panthers outscored Brookside 7-2 to end the first half and 23-6 to start the second to take a 52-50 lead. Elyria Catholic came out smoking, hitting its first six field-goal attempts and not committing a turnover to start the half. When Daniel Whitacre hit a 3-pointer from the left wing, Schremp used his second timeout of the run to quiet the Panthers.
Holley was a beast inside, finishing with 23 points and 13 boards, many off the offensive glass. Whitacre, a 6-5 junior, had five rebounds and finished with 19 points with a pair of 3-pointers to boot. Xavier Bennett, although not scoring, pulled in seven rebounds after Brookside claimed a 20-9 advantage in rebounds the first half.
“Our kids did a great job of battling back,” EC coach Phil Kuchta said. “I think we spent so much energy. You see it time and time again. You spend so much to get back in. Ah, give Brookside a lot of credit. They weren’t ready to just go away. I thought when we took the lead we were going to take control.”
“We just got a little out of control,” Schremp said. “EC’s a heck of a ballclub. They took full advantage of it.”
It was the final possessions of the third quarter that turned things back Brookside’s way. Kelvin Jones split a pair of free throws with less than 30 seconds to go in the third quarter. EC tried to work a play as the clock wore down, but the Panthers missed and left enough time for Skolnicki to drill a 3-pointer that beat the buzzer to give the Cardinals a 54-52 lead entering the final quarter.
“The whole thing is we took the shot with about eight seconds left,” Kuchta said. “We didn’t want that. We wanted to get the last shot in that situation. That was a five-point swing.”
“Those were two huge possessions,” Schremp said. “Hunter hitting that three at the end to push us back in the lead, it really just gave us the momentum back.”
Brookside took off again from there, scoring the first five points of the fourth quarter and going on a 10-1 run. The Cardinals withstood one final Panthers rally that trimmed the lead to 64-59 with 3:10 to go.
The Cardinals, who made 17 of 21 free throws on the night, made nine of their last 12 to salt the game away.
Brookside 81, Elyria Catholic 65
ELYRIA CATHOLIC (65): Cory Strasko 1-1-3, Jeremy Holley 10-3-23, Daniel Whitaker 8-1-19, Tyler Riddell 2-0-6, Joe Dempsey 3-0-6, Andrew Konno 1-0-2, M.J. Lotko 1-0-2, John Sturza 2-0-4, Matt Morgan 0-0-0, Xavier Bennett 0-0-0, Jacob Moore 0-0-0. Totals 28-5-65.
BROOKSIDE (81): Hunter Skolnicki 9-2-24, Justin Lopez 1-0-2, Nathan Keith 8-4-20, Alex Robinson 3-3-9, Keyonte Francis 0-2-2, Mat Gorta 7-5-19, Kelvin Jones 2-1-5, Josh Zenkert 0-0-0. Totals 31-17-81.
Elyria Catholic 12 17 23 13 — 55
Brookside 23 21 10 27 — 81
Three-point goals: Elyria Catholic 4-15 (Whitacre 2, Riddell 2), Brookside 5-11 (Skolnicki 4, Robinson). Field goals: Elyria Catholic 28-62 (45 percent), Brookside 31-60 (52 percent). Free throws: Elyria Catholic 5-10 (50 percent), Brookside 17-21 (81 percent). Rebounds: Elyria Catholic 34 (Holley 14), Brookside 37 (Gorta 13). Turnovers: Elyria Catholic 20, Brookside 12. Fouls: Elyria Catholic 18, Brookside 14. Intentional Foul: Keith.
Junior varsity: Elyria Catholic, 42-31.
Contact Tim Gebhardt at (440) 329-7136 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.