And the Panthers used them to cook up a tasty win, outhustling and outplaying Northwestern 73-63 to advance to Monday’s Division III district semifinal.
The win assures Lorain County will be represented in the district final since the Panthers will play Oberlin, which edged Orrville 47-43 in Friday’s opener.
Elyria Catholic (13-11) won the shooting, rebounding and ballhandling battles in eliminating the bigger and taller Huskies (12-12). The Panthers grabbed the early advantage and refused to fold under Northwestern’s full-court pressure.
EC never trailed after jumping out to a 6-0 start, then iced the game at the free throw line by hitting nine of their final 10 tries.
“First half, I wasn’t shooting (foul shots) real well,” said Ceevan Shelton, who made his last five at crunch time. “Second half, I just took my time. Same routine.”
“Making free throws down the stretch is the biggest key to winning games,” said Cory Strasko, who was a perfect 4-for-4 in the final minutes.
Senior Tyler Riddell, who shook off his early shooting woes to finish with 17 points, led four EC players in double figures.
Strasko and Shelton — who combined to make 10 of 12 foul shots — each scored 14 with Xavier Bennett adding 10.
“I don’t know what it is about this gym,” Riddell said. “I can’t shoot in it. Last year I had trouble against Oberlin. Second half, I started breaking it off.”
Tyler couldn’t help but talk about his brother — junior Conner Riddell — who tipped in one of Tyler’s misses and made a number of pure hustle plays to keep possessions alive for the Panthers.
“We’ve played together all our lives,” Tyler said. “I know how he plays. He knows how I play. He’s got more energy than I do on defense. He has a lot of intensity. He hustles a lot.”
“That’s the kind of team we have to be,” EC coach Jason Smith said. “Especially against Northwestern with three post players who were just monsters inside. We have no choice but to be that way. In particular, there was one possession in the third quarter — loose ball, Connor Riddell just goes face first, D.J. (Graham) goes face first over top of him to get it. That’s the kind of plays that gets our team going.”
“We need to hustle to get the 50-50 balls,” Strasko said. “When we get the 50-50 balls, we can get the ball up the court on our fast break and get transition offense.”
Bennett, at just 6-foot, battled 6-5 Drew Kline and 6-4 Brandon Covert all night and even managed to pick off six rebounds to help EC to a slight edge in that department. John Sturza, listed at 6-1, also had a half-dozen boards.
“Lot of mistakes, turnovers,” Northwestern coach Mark Alberts said. “Big possession when you’re coming down the floor and try to throw it into the post but the guy (Riddell) dives on the floor and takes it. We had chances at the foul line but we missed foul shots. Fifteen of 26 at the line — it’s been our Achilles’ heel all year.”
The win sets up a rematch from both last year and earlier this year. Oberlin eliminated EC a year ago at this tournament, but the Panthers won the battle earlier this season.
Contact Tim Gebhardt at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Elyria Catholic 73, Northwestern 63
ELYRIA CATHOLIC (73): Cory Strasko 5-4-14, Daniel Whitacre 3-0-6, Tyler Riddell 6-2-17, Ceevan Shelton 4-6-14, Xavier Bennett 4-2-10, DJ Graham 2-0-4, John Stursa 1-0-2, Conner Riddell 2-1-6, Drew Kaplan 0-0-0, Angelo Cruz 0-0-0, Zach Konno 0-0-0. Totals 27-14-73.
NORTHWESTERN (63): Matt Kohler 1-1-3, Tyler Smith 3-0-6, Brandon Covert 6-1-13, Malachi Nolletti 7-5-21, Drew Kline 5-4-14, Gavin Gortner 0-1-1, Walker Claus 1-1-3, Tristan Weaverling 0-0-0, Jay Duncan 0-2-2, Bailey Mawrer 0-0-0. Totals 23-15-63.
Elyria Catholic 15 19 19 20 — 73
Northwestern 11 15 17 20 — 63
Three-point goals: Elyria Catholic 4-19 (T.Ridell 3, C. Riddell), Northwestern 2-8 (Nolletti 2); Field goals: Elyria Catholic 27-50 (54 percent), Northwestern 23-50 (46 percent); Free throws: Elyria Catholic 14-22 (64 percent), Northwestern 15-26 (58 percent); Rebounds: Elyria Catholic 31 (Bennett, Sturza 6), Northwestern 30 (Kline 9); Turnovers: Elyria Catholic 11, Northwestern 12; Total fouls: Elyria Catholic 17, Northwestern 20; Fouled Out: Whitacre, Smith.