EATON TWP. — For a pair of teams that entered tournament play with losing records, Tuesday’s sectional opener was all about getting a win.
North Ridgeville’s desire was a shade better than Strongsville’s in an exciting 64-61 win that went down to the final seconds at Ed Kubuski Gym.
The Rangers (4-19) advanced to the Division I sectional title game against second-seeded Elyria on Saturday at 6 p.m.
Strongsville (3-20) ended its 16th season under coach Joe Lynch, who had 23 years previously at Bedford Chanel.
“All close-game losses are heartbreakers,” Lynch said. “Turnovers, which we’ve had all season, killed us. Ridgeville shot well and when we trailed most of the game we had to double-team, which led to leaving someone open.
“But I was proud of the way we made up an 11-point deficit and came back.”
North Ridgeville had a terrific second quarter, outscoring the Mustangs 18-8 and leading to a 42-31 advantage on Dennis Millgard’s fast-break layup after a Strongsville turnover with 5:45 remaining in the third quarter.
The Mustangs, who had 19 turnovers to just 10 for the Rangers, started their comeback at that point and finally pulled to within 55-54 on Drew Robertson’s 3-pointer with 4:35 left in the game. North Ridgeville kept pace after that and had a narrow 62-61 lead with 20 seconds left. That set the stage for two dramatic free throws by Nate Inal with 19 ticks remaining for the final scoring.
The Mustangs tried two 3-point attempts that missed the mark in the closing seconds.
“We wanted this really bad so we’re very happy,” said Millgard, who led the Rangers with 16 points and was 2-for-2 from beyond the arc.” I got a couple of threes and got confident and kept shooting.”
Inal, who scored 14, tried to steady himself before the crucial foul shots.
“I was concentrating on being calm and knocking them down,” he said. “Records really don’t matter when you’re in the tournaments. Our defense was the key tonight, especially when we switched to a 1-4. As for the blown lead, you’ve got to believe in yourselves. And we did.”
With only three wins coming in, North Ridgeville coach Bryan Morgan took a gamble right from the beginning when he started freshman Jordan Montgomery for the first time. He played 15 minutes and scored six points.
“Hey, it’s the tournaments, so you take chances,” he said. “I was proud of our team all night, they played like it was the beginning of the season. We’ve got a good combo of kids right now. After losing our nice lead we were able to answer a lot of their runs the rest of the way.”
The Rangers, no matter how they do against Elyria on Saturday, have a bright future. They lose only two seniors (Inal and Mason Demyen) as Morgan started three juniors, a freshman and a senior.
Seeing a lot of playing time Tuesday off the bench were juniors Bailey Gannon and Jacob Ruoff, sophomores Tyler Arnold and Nathan Colbert and freshman Tyler Rowe.
North Ridgeville 64, Strongsville 61
NORTH RIDGEVILLE (64): Dennis Millgard 6-2-16, Nate Inal 4-5-14, Tyler Arnold 3-0-9, Jordan Montgomery 1-4-6, Matt Clark 2-0-6, Bailey Gannon 1-2-4, Mason Demyen 2-0-4, Nolan Freeman 1-1-3, Nathan Colbert 1-0-2, Draft 0-0-0, Jacob Ruoff 0-0-0, Tyler Rowe 0-0-0. Totals 21-14-64.
STRONGSVILLE (61): Kyle Meehan 6-9-22, Tom Krokey 6-1-14, Drew Robertson 3-1-9, John McNeils 3-0-7, Brandon Bailey 1-2-4, Alex Barnes 1-0-3, Josh Richissin 1-0-2, Vince Dindia 0-0-0, Alex Ruch 0-0-0, Paul Warren 0-0-0. Totals 21-13-61.
North Ridgeville 18 18 15 13 — 64
Strongsville 19 8 18 16 — 61
Three-point goals: North Ridgeville 8-18 (Arnold 3, Clark 2, Millgard 2, Inal), Strongsville 6-20 (Robertson 2, Krokey, Meehan, McNeils, Barnes); Field goals: North Ridgeville 21-52 (40 percent), Strongsville 21-43 (49 percent); Free throws: North Ridgeville 14-23 (61 percent), Strongsville 13-19 (68 percent); Rebounds: North Ridgeville 32 (Inal 6), Strongsville 36 (Kroskey 9); Turnovers: North Ridgeville 10, Strongsville 19; Total fouls: North Ridgeville 18, Strongsville 17; Fouled out: Montgomery.
Contact Jerry Rombach at 329-7135 or email@example.com.