CENTERBURG — Kyle Walton seized his opportunity and he hit pay dirt for the Utica Redskins.
The 5-foot-11 senior hit one of the biggest shots of his high school career, driving the paint and laying it in with 3.1 seconds left in overtime. That shot gave the Redskins a thrilling, 62-60 victory over Licking Heights in their Division II Central District Sectional opener at Centerburg High School on Wednesday.
It wasn’t quite what Utica coach Eric Sheck asked for. He intended for forward Justin Dassylva to get the ball, but Sheck certainly wasn’t complaining.
“We were actually going to run a back door there and, if it broke down, we would have the ball in Justin’s hands, but, obviously, (Licking Heights) was going to deny Justin all over the place,” said Sheck. “They did that and that (winning shot) was Kyle just making a play. It has nothing to do with coaching. That’s just a kid saying, ‘Well, the play we have is just not working.’ So, he went and made a play.”
Kyle Walton (12 points) saw Dassylva guarded but he also saw a lane to the basket wide enough to drive a truck through.
“Well, we had a design play at the end, but it fell apart,” said Kyle Walton, who had six of Utica’s eight points in overtime. “I saw an open seam, took it and hit the shot. I wasn’t expecting to make a layup. Usually, I step back and shoot a 3, but I’ll take a layup any day. (The lane) was pretty open. I couldn’t believe how open it was.”
Dassylva, who dropped in 22 points, drew the extra defender, which opened the door for Kyle Walton.
“It was a design play for me to get the ball,” explained Dassylva. “(Licking Heights) just overplayed us and denied us. (Kyle) stepped up and made his own play that won the game for us. It was an opportunity to win the game and he stepped up and did a great job.”
Utica (11-10) managed to lead by as many as four in the first half. With 2 1/2 minutes to go, they took a 19-15 advantage on a Kevin Walton 3-pointer.
That’s when the Hornets (11-10) struck. First, guard Deonte Holder landed a 3 of his own as part of his game-leading 26 points. Next, freshman Ronnie Dawson (4-for-8 field goals, eight points) hit a bucket with a minute left in the half. Finally, guard Devon Mattison (4-for-5 fgs, eight points) stole the ball right back from Utica and Tadele converted with another 3-pointer to give the Hornets the lead at the half, 23-21.
Things grew more intense in the second half as Utica turned up the heat on defense.
“(Licking Heights) kicked our butts on the boards in the first half,” said Sheck. “In my opinion, that’s an effort thing. You can always put forth good effort. Again we challenged our guys that I didn’t think we did a good job effort-wise as a team. We had some guys, who put some tremendous effort in early on. Really, as a team, we let them get some loose balls and they went on a nice little run there. Luckily, our guys stepped up.”
“We finally started stepping our defense up,” said Dassylva. “We got a little slack in the first half, but in the second half we came out with a different intensity. We knew who their shooter was and who was going to do what. We had to get up in their face or do something, so we stepped it up and played our game instead of their game.”
Things didn’t look good for the Redskins midway through the fourth when Hornets’ guard Eyob Tadele grabbed an offensive rebound and hit the putback. Actually Dawson missed on a 3-point shot, center Tim Smith (three rebounds) missed the putback and Tadele got the follow to give the Hornets a a 50-44 lead.
It was Kevin Walton (11 points) who hit a 3-pointer that kept Utica in the game. Each team hit nine shots from 3-point range. For Dassylva, who followed with a 2-point basket to pull Utica to within one, 50-49, hitting a 3-pointer is a great boost.
“It helps a lot,” said Dassylva who landed a total of three 3-pointers in the game. “The defender doesn’t know what you’re going to do — if you’re going to drive or if you’re going to pull up and shoot. It helps a lot when you make your outside shots because it’s hard for a defender when someone can drive or shoot outside. It makes a heck of a time for them.”
Dassylva hit another on a putback to keep it close, 52-51. Guard Nick Rubbo (five points) hit a pair of free throws to give the Hornets a three point lead with only 26.1 seconds on the clock.
When the Redskins got the ball back, they needed a 3-pointer. Fortunately, Sheck had one in his script and, right on cue, Kevin Walton hit a baseline 3-pointer with seven ticks left on the clock.
“That was a design play,” said Sheck. “We run that all year. We were in a situation where we got Kevin, one of our best shooters, and put him into a position to make a shot. He found three and he made it.”
“Well, in the heat of the moment, I just stepped up and hit it,” said Kevin Walton. “That’s our go to play when we need three. When we need something late in the game, that’s what we go to. I like being the one who has to step up and shoot it.”
It took Kevin’s brother to outshine that moment in overtime, but neither wants to hog the credit.
“To come back, put it into overtime and win it in the overtime is just amazing,” said Kyle Walton.
“Both of them were amazing plays, I just like to step back and watch my brother do what he does best,” said Kevin Walton.
“Give (Licking Heights) credit, They knew Justin was (supposed) to get the ball,” said Sheck. “They took him away and that was option No. 1 and we had a senior who has played all year long and he made a play for us down stretch.”
Last second wins are nothing new to Sheck, whose Redskins have been terrific since midseason.
“It’s nothing that I’ve done or our staff has done,” said Sheck. “Our kids have never stopped believing. We started out on a rough stretch. We were 2-and-8 at one point. We just challenged our kids. If our seniors weren’t going to step up, we were going to move on. Give our seniors a lot of credit. They don’t always do everything perfect but they’re competitors, they continue to find a way to win and they have, lately, been winning some close games like they did in the second half of the year. That’s given our guys a little bit of confidence. That helps tremendously down the stretch in a game like this.”
“I think that, at the beginning of the season, we weren’t really playing as a team,” said Kyle. “We weren’t really clicking as a team and we just really came together in the second half.”
Utica will face the Columbus East Tigers at Thomas Worthington High School on Friday at 8 p.m. and the action only promises to get more intense.
“The first (tournament) game is always the toughest because you’re a little bit nervous,” said Dassylva. “It’s a little bit different atmosphere out there. The crowd gets into it a little more because either you’re going home or you’re going to another game. It gets a little shaky at first for some of these new guys, but most of our boys are used to it. I’m in my fourth year of being a varsity player so it was just another tournament game for me. The other guys stepped up and played a heck of a game.”