WESTLAKE — There’s nothing better at tournament time than longtime rivals settling their backyard differences.
Vermilion and Firelands staged a nip-and-tuck, back-and-forth struggle Wednesday in a Division II sectional opener before the Sailors took control in overtime for a 67-62 victory.
Vermilion (12-11) will take on West Shore Conference rival Rocky River on Saturday for the right to advance to the district semifinals. Firelands, fresh off its Patriot Athletic Conference Stars Division championship, finished 14-9.
The difference was subtle between the evenly matched teams. Vermilion won the regular-season battle 54-52 with a similar stretch run that wiped out a one-time 10-point deficit. On Wednesday, a few too many turnovers haunted the Falcons down the stretch of regulation and overtime as Vermilion’s defense picked up the intensity.
“You know with four and a half (minutes) to go in the game, we really challenged the kids,” Vermilion coach Kurt Habermehl said. “‘I don’t know what you’re waiting for, but you’ve gotta go now. Can’t wait.’”
Firelands, off two straight close-range baskets from Joe Hyster and Casey Smith, was sitting on a 48-44 lead and maintained that margin off a great inside feed from Hyster to Logan Sittinger with just under three minutes left for a 50-46 lead. But the Falcons couldn’t close it out.
“We had the lead with four minutes to go,” said Brett Bartlett, finishing his first year at the helm for Firelands. “That’s what Vermilion does. They’re really good at pressuring the ball, getting up in the passing lanes and creating turnovers. We didn’t play as strong as we needed to with the basketball.”
The Falcons turned it over on four straight possessions, opening the door for Vermilion to tie the game.
And although the Sailors missed an opportunity to win it in regulation, they clearly had things going their way as the overtime tipped off. Three more crucial Falcons turnovers allowed Vermilion to score nine straight points, the final three on a baseline bomb by Anthony Rini to effectively put the game to bed at 59-50.
“We started trapping in the right spots,” Habermehl said. “We got a six-point lead and then Anthony Rini hit the dagger with that shot in the corner. That was just huge.”
“We finally played as a team at the end on that run,” said Vermilion’s Cameron Kuhn, who led all scorers with 28 points. “We made the extra pass and our defense made the right rotations. We had talked about it the whole week. That’s all we worked on was our full-court drills on defense. It paid off.”
Bartlett found a silver lining.
“Our effort was there,” he said. “We competed, we played hard. We have no reason to hang our heads after that effort. Looking back, a few weeks from now, we’re going to really appreciate the season we had.”
Vermilion 67, Firelands 62 (OT)
FIRELANDS (62): Nick Bauer 5-4-14, Logan Sittinger 8-0-16, Cole Sklarek 2-0-4, Casey Smith 3-1-9, Joe Hyster 5-0-10, James Willbond 2-2-7, Brett Helton 1-0-2. Totals 26-7-62.
VERMILION (67): Anthony Rini 3-1-8, Forrest Boyd 6-3-15, Kyle Nader 2-4-9, Austin Kazmer 0-0-0, Cameron Kuhn 10-6-28, Ross Lewis 0-0-0, Seth Konrad 0-0-0, John Austin 1-0-2, Ryan Miller 1-3-5. Totals 23-17-67.
Firelands 14 15 15 6 12 — 62
Vermilion 12 17 11 10 17 — 67
Three-point goals: Firelands 3-6 (Smith 2, Willbond), Vermilion 4-17 (Kuhn 2, Rini, Nader). Field goals: Firelands 26-43 (60 percent). Vermilion 23-55 (42 percent). Free throws: Firelands 7-14 (50 percent), Vermilion 17-23 (74 percent). Rebounds: Firelands 27 (Hyster 13), Vermilion 27 (Nader 6). Turnovers: Firelands 25, Vermilion 15. Total fouls: Firelands 19, Vermilion 16. Fouled Out: None.
Contact Tim Gebhardt at 329-7135 or email@example.com.