Elyria Catholic coach Jason Smith took ill in the locker room prior to the game before turning the team over to assistant Joshua Backo. Lakewood senior Pete Nelson was also sick in his locker room prior to and at halftime of the West Shore Conference showdown.
However, Nelson was able to rehydrate himself in time to produce a record-setting performance (16-of-16 from the free throw line) that helped the Rangers to a 63-57 come-from-behind win.
Lakewood remained perfect at 7-0, 5-0 in the WSC, while Elyria Catholic fell to 2-5 overall and 2-3 in league play.
Elyria Catholic overcame the loss of its coach in the first half, going on 13-4 run over the final four minutes of the opening quarter to take a 21-12 lead, with senior Daniel Whitacre leading the way. Whitacre scored 14 of his team-high 17 points in the first half.
The Panthers withstood one Lakewood run to enter halftime leading 37-29, but in the second half, the Rangers showed why they are the team to beat in their inaugural season in the WSC.
Junior Shawn McDonald started the half with a 3-pointer to cut the Panthers’ lead to five, 37-32, and at the 3:59 mark of the third period, he connected from long distance again to give Lakewood the lead, 40-39. Elyria Catholic never lead again.
Nelson, a 6-foot-2 senior guard took over in the fourth quarter, scoring 12 of his game-high 30 points, as Lakewood stretched its lead to as many as eight. Nelson also made 10 free throws in the final six minutes to preserve the win and break a school record that had stood for 35 seasons.
“I puked before the game, at halftime and after the game. It’s just another challenge for me to overcome that and do whatever I can to help my team win,” said Nelson, who entered the game shooting over 90 percent from the foul line.
“I made sure I stayed hydrated and was breathing properly out there because I didn’t want to puke on the court, but all that mattered to me is us being 7-0 going into Christmas.”
Veteran Lakewood coach Phil Argento said he could not recall ever seeing a player go 16-for-16 from the foul line.
He was happy that his team overcame first-half adversity to outscore the Panthers 34-20 over the final 16 minutes.
“They gave us everything they could in the first half and we came in and changed some things up on defense to take control,” Argento said. “Then we just kept running and running. Give Elyria Catholic a lot of credit, though. That is a good basketball team. Their record is deceiving. They are going to win their share of games before it’s all over.”
Elyria Catholic made one final run late in the game, cutting the deficit to two, 57-55, on a Whitacre 3-pointer with 1:02 to play, but were unable to draw any closer. Seniors Tyler Riddell and Xavier Bennett were both in double figures for the Panthers with 13 and 11 points, respectively.
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Lakewood 63, Elyria Catholic 57
ELYRIA CATHOLIC (57): Cory Strasko 2-0-4, Angelo Cruz 1-0-3, Daniel Whitacre 8-0-17, Tyler Riddell 6-0-13, Conner Riddell 2-0-5, John Stursa 1-1-4, Xavier Bennett 3-5-11. Totals 23-6-57.
LAKEWOOD (63): Mike Angers 1-0-2, Tyshawn Goolsby 2-0-5, Zach Fehrenbach 1-2-4, Pete Nelson 6-16-30, Aaron Donahow 4-0-9, Shawn McDonald 3-2-10, Cameron Silver 0-3-3. Totals 17-23-63.
Elyria Catholic 21 16 4 16 — 57
Lakewood 12 17 15 19 — 63
Three-point goals: Elyria Catholic (Cruz, Whitacre, C. Riddell, T. Riddell, Stursa). Lakewood (Nelson 2, McDonald 2, Goolsby, Donahoe. Field goals: Elyria Catholic 23-of-62 (37 percent); Lakewood 17-of-57 (30 percent). Free throws: Elyria Catholic 6-of-11 (55 percent); Lakewood 23-of-24 (96 percent). Rebounds: Elyria Catholic 37; Lakewood 39. Turnovers: Elyria Catholic 14; Lakewood 9.