ELYRIA — How long has it been since Elyria’s basketball team has played as important a conference game as it will tonight when North Royalton visits the Pioneers gym?
Try 18 years. That’s the last time the Pioneers had a chance to win or share a league crown. It was during the 1994-95 season under current girls coach Mike Walsh that Elyria came from three games behind midway through the season to tie Sandusky for the Erie Shore title.
That team was led by soon-to-be Elyria Sports Hall of Famer Adam Larrick, brother of Elyria coach Brett Larrick and an assistant on this year’s team.
Adam Larrick scored nearly 20 points a game for that team.
“Both Adam and Butch (assistant coach Keith Sooy) let us know about it all the time,” Brett Larrick said. “It’s a great opportunity for us, but it’s just one step closer. We still have two more games (at Parma and at Normandy) to play but this is the important one.”
Sooy was Elyria’s coach during the 1983-84 season when the Pioneers tied Admiral King for the Buckeye Conference crown. Jeff Thomas was the high scorer on that team, which went 18-4, averaging better than 18 points a game.
This year’s Northeast Ohio Conference Lake Division title will be decided by tonight’s outcome. North Royalton is 16-2 and 7-0 in league play, while Elyria is 15-4 and 6-1. It marks the final home game of the season for the Pioneers.
“(North Royalton) is probably one of the best teams we’ve played,” Larrick said. “They are very disciplined and have seven guys all scoring at least 7.5 points a game. They all handle the ball, shoot it and play defense. (Coach Tim Matus) does a great job. It’s a challenge.”
North Royalton won 58-45 when the teams met early in January at North Royalton. The Bears played well on both ends, holding Elyria’s high-scoring tandem of Kody Bender and Isaiah Walton to just 16 points total — their lowest output of the season.
Bender, who like Walton averages close to 19 a game, had just six points. Elyria was also 1-of-16 from behind the 3-point arc and just 6-of-14 from the foul line.
The Bears were patient on offense and utilized talented 6-foot-7 freshman Omari Spellman as the key to their inside-out offense. Spellman scored 13 points and pulled down seven rebounds. Two bench players — 6-2 senior Tyler Smolinski and 6-0 junior Logan Chuppa — combined to score 21 points.
North Royalton was 7-of-13 from the 3-point line.
“We forced a lot of things the first time and turned it over too many times,” Larrick said. “We have to do a better job of what we’re strong at doing. We have to play better.”
“We want it bad,” said 6-0 senior Dontae Dukes, who has started every game for Elyria this year. “We haven’t won a conference since ’95. The first game (against North Royalton) we didn’t play well … didn’t play our game. Our best offense is our defense.”
“We want to go out with a win,” said Bender, in his fourth year on the varsity. “We’ve talked about this a long time. It means something to be playing our last game on our home floor. We know we didn’t play as well as we could the last time against them. We didn’t shoot well. We hope to jump on them right from the start.”
The Bears, in addition to their tall, talented freshman, will start 6-0 senior Travis Tarnowski, the quarterback on the football team, as well as 6-2 junior Nick Woods and seniors Nick Krempansky (6-3) and Evan Wypasek (6-0).
Elyria will counter with Bender (6-1), Dukes (6-0), Walton (6-2) and juniors Anthony Duckett (6-1) and A.J. Johnson (6-3). Juniors Ronnie Smith (5-9), Tavon Kurtz (6-3), Jarred Schultz (6-3) and Hunter Parsh (6-2), along with senior Da’Jaun Glover (5-9), will see plenty of action off the bench.
- WHO: Elyria vs. North Royalton
- TIME: 7:30
- WHERE: Elyria High School
- RADIO: WEOL 930-AM
Contact Tim Gebhardt at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.