ROCKY RIVER — Elyria Catholic threatened on many occasions — in each quarter — to run away from Lutheran West in an opening-round matchup in the stacked Garfield Heights Division III district.
The Panthers led by as many as eight in the first half, seven in the third quarter and by six early in the fourth.
Each time, though, the No. 6 seed Longhorns responded until they finally gained their first lead at the start of overtime, then outlasted the eighth-seeded Panthers 65-62 in double overtime Tuesday night.
The Longhorns improved to 19-4 and will play at No. 2 seed Beachwood on Friday. EC ends its season at 12-11.
“We’ve been in close games throughout the season, and we knew we would hit big shots when we needed them,” said Andrew O’Hara, who led Lutheran West with 17 points and 10 rebounds, and scored the eventual game-clinching basket with 15 seconds left.
Junior James Tirbaso and senior Jeremy Holley fueled the EC attack inside. Tirbaso scored nine in the third quarter as the Panthers pushed their lead to 42-35 midway through the quarter. After Lutheran West cut it back to two after the third, EC made it 51-45 on baskets from Tirbaso and Ceeven Shelton early in the fourth.
Holley (22) and Tirbaso (21) combined for 43 points, with Tirbaso getting a career high. But after Holley scored 15 in the first half, Lutheran West played zone in the third quarter and doubled Holley — helping with a backside defender — when they were in man.
That helped them stay in the game and led to a recurrence of EC’s turnover issues, as the Panthers either forced the ball to Holley or struggled on the perimeter to get it to him. The Panthers committed 10 turnovers in the second half and overtimes combined.
“We went zone because we just couldn’t stop (Holley), and when we went back to man we took our opportunities to get two bodies on him,” Longhorns coach Alan Januzzi said. “We dug ourselves a hole, but our kids kept getting stops and battling, and that’s what got us to overtime.”
After EC gained its six-point edge early in the fourth, the Longhorns’ Chris Quinn scored consecutively on second-chance baskets, but Holley answered with one of his own.
O’Hara banked in a runner to make it 53-51, but Tirbaso answered with another tip-in for a 55-51 edge. Lutheran West’s Greg Kunze followed with a banker and Quinn scored again to tie it at 55.
Then came the turnovers: The Panthers had one with 1:01 left in regulation, and another after Tirbaso blocked a Max Quinn shot. EC had two fouls to give, and used them both, the last with 9.2 seconds left.
Lutheran West ran the clock and found Quinn for a layup attempt and he was fouled with 0.2 seconds left. Quinn, though, missed both, to force overtime.
EC committed a pair of turnovers in the first extra session, but took a 61-59 lead with 55 seconds left after baskets by Holley and Tirbaso. Kunsz then missed on a tying attempt, but he grabbed the rebound. He then hit a floater to tie it at 61. After an EC turnover, Kunze missed a long attempt for the win with two seconds left.
Kunze scored first in double OT, and Holley split a pair of free throws with 1:38 left. After O’Hara missed the front end of a one-and-one, EC committed consecutive turnovers, the latter leading to an O’Hara layup. After a Panthers timeout, Jacob Kuchta missed a 3-pointer and Colden Schemmel missed another attempt at the tie as time expired.
“Toward the end of the game and in overtime, we were not ourselves, and that’s a credit to Lutheran West,” EC coach Phil Kuchta said. “You go through a double-overtime game, and you think no one should have to lose. But we just made too many mistakes at critical times.”
Contact Joel Hammond at 329-7135 or email@example.com.
Lutheran West 65, Elyria Catholic 62 (2OT)
ELYRIA CATHOLIC (62): DJ Graham 2-0-4, Ceeven Shelton 2-0-4, Jeremy Holley 9-4-22, Jacob Kuchta 3-3-9, James Tirbaso 10-1-21, Colden Schemmel 1-0-2. Totals 27-8-62.
LUTHERAN WEST (65): Greg Kunse 6-0-14, Peter Koza 4-2-10, Chris Scott 4-1-9, Andrew O’Hara 7-2-17, Max Quinn 6-3-15. Totals 27-8-65.
Elyria Catholic 18 13 16 8 6 1 — 62
Lutheran West 13 14 18 10 6 4 — 65
Three-point goals: Elyria Catholic 0-11, Lutheran West 3-16 (Kunse 2, O’Hara). Field goals: Elyria Catholic 27-59 (46 percent), Lutheran West 27-67 (40 percent). Free throws: Elyria Catholic 8-13 (62 percent), Lutheran West 8-13 (62 percent). Rebounds: Elyria Catholic 34 (Holley 10), Lutheran West 36 (O’Hara 10). Total fouls: Elyria Catholic 12, Lutheran West 14. Turnovers: Elyria Catholic 19, Lutheran West 13.