NORTH RIDGEVILLE — Desperate described the mood of both Elyria Catholic and North Ridgeville as the teams met in West Shore play Tuesday night.
Both were mired in losing spells — the Panthers at five in a row, the Rangers at two and eight of their last nine.
So, of course, they had to play four overtimes to see which team would go home happy.
Turnes out it was EC, thanks to D.J. Graham, who knocked down six consecutive free throws in the fourth overtime to give the Panthers an 83-76 win.
Elyria Catholic evened its mark at 8-8, 5-6 in league play. The hard-luck Rangers fell to 4-13, 3-8.
“The guys had my back,” Graham said. “When I knew they had my back, I knew I’d make them.”
“D.J., his whole career going back to junior high, struggled from the foul line,” EC coach Phil Kuchta said. “Especially in a clutch moment. The kid has so much heart. We love him on the team. To see him make those foul shots in a pressure situation was huge for us.”
Graham finished with 17 points.
“We haven’t been closing out close games of late,” said senior Jeremy Holley, who had 20 points and 13 rebounds. “For us to really pick up our defense, that was the big thing.”
For most of the night, it didn’t look good for the Panthers. North Ridgeville in general and senior Nolan Freeman in particular was shooting lights out.
The Rangers built a 12-point cushion with 3:01 left in the first half and still led by 44-34 when Freeman hit the fifth of his six 3-pointers with 6:17 to go in the third quarter.
Freeman finished with a career-high 25 points.
“They were eight-of-15 the first half,” Kuchta said of the Rangers’ 3-point shooting. “Freeman was on fire. We kept saying we’ll live with that but he kept making them.”
“The way Nolan was playing and the way we were putting the ball in the hole, I thought this was the night,” North Ridgeville coach Bryan Morgan said. “Guys needed to make plays.”
It appeared all but over when the Rangers converted an inbound pass into a Dennis Millgard layup for a 57-49 lead with 3:45 to play, but that’s when Elyria Catholic decided enough was enough.
Behind some clutch plays by Jacob Kuchta, EC closed on a 13-5 run to send the game into overtime tied at 62. Kuchta scored 13 of his game-high 27 points down the stretch.
Both teams scored four points in the first and second extra sessions and neither scored in the third. Holley had back-to-back baskets to start the final overtime, but Chad Kisel hit a 3-pointer for the Rangers before Graham scored on a drive down the lane for a 76-73 lead.
Graham was fouled and missed the shot, but North Ridgeville failed on its next three possessions and Graham then hit his next six foul shots to ice the game.
“I’m just so proud of our guys,” Coach Kuchta said. “I’m just happy for them.”
Contact Tim Gebhardt at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Elyria Catholic 83, North Ridgeville 76
ELYRIA CATHOLIC (83): DJ Graham 5-7-17, Conner Riddell 0-0-0, Ceevan Shelton 3-7-13, Jeremy Holley 10-0-20, Jacob Kuchta 8-8-27, James Tirbaso 1-1-3, Drew Kaplan 0-0-0, Kevin Kelley 1-0-3, Colden Schemel 0-0-0, Brian Duffield 0-0-0. Totals 28-23-83.
NORTH RIDGEVILLE (76): Matt Clark 3-0-9, Chad Kisel 5-0-13, Dennis Millgard 5-2-13, Jordan Montgomery 1-0-2, Nolan Freeman 9-1-25, Demario McCall 1-0-2, Tyler Arnold 2-0-5, Nathan Colbert 3-0-7, Braylon King 0-0-0, Collin Sullinger 0-0-0. Totals 29-3-76.
Elyria Catholic 18 12 13 19 4 4 0 13 — 83
North Ridgeville 23 15 13 11 4 4 0 6 — 76
Three-point goals: Elyria Catholic 4-15 (Kuchta 3, Kelley), North Ridgeville 15-35 (Freeman 6, Clark 3, Kisel 3, Millgard, Arnold, Colbert). Field goals: Elyria Catholic 28-57 (49 percent), North Ridgeville 29-64 (45 percent). Free throws: Elyria Catholic 23-34 (68 percent), North Ridgeville 3-8 (37.5 percent). Rebounds: Elyria Catholic 43 (Holley 13), North Ridgeville 33 (Freeman 8). Turnovers: Elyria Catholic 15, North Ridgeville 14. Fouls: Elyria Catholic 16, North Ridgeville 25. Fouled out: Shelton, Millard, Kisel.
Junior varsity: Elyria Catholic, 50-35