WORTHINGTON — It was a great effort by the Utica Redskins that came unraveled all at once.
The East Tigers with a devastating surge down the stretch, ran away from the Redskins, 61-52, in their Division II Sectional Final at Thomas Worthington High School on Friday.
Utica (11-11) got off to an explosive start with Justin Dassylva (17 points) hitting a basket near the midpoint of the opening quarter to give his team a 15-5 lead.
“One of the things that we tell our kids is that one of the keys to winning is that you’ve got to make shots,” said Utica coach Eric Sheck. “If you go back to the first half of our season when we were 2-and-8, and in games we lost, we were shooting 30 percent from the field. Tonight, we made some shots and knocked down some 3s. That allowed us to stay in a zone and I think that frustrated (East) a little bit, when we stayed in our zone.”
The Tigers, however, kept roaring right back all night long. East sophomore Denzel Lipson (three points, four rebounds) hit a 3-pointer early in the second to close the gap to 23-20.
Kyle Walton (14 points) lit the Redskins spark again, landing a 3-pointer. Teammate Joe Metzger (10 points, four rebounds) followed with a bucket to raise the lead to nine again, 29-20.
“We just had to play our game against a team that was a little bit quicker and a little bit stronger and a little bit taller,” said Sheck. We had to play our style. We have to be patient. I thought our guys did that in the first three quarters. The key is that we handled the basketball.”
The Tigers came close again, with Mycol Madison (eight points) and Lipson hitting on passes to Jordan Laster (22 points) under the basket. The Tigers threw in seven quick points to go into the locker room at the half, down by only two, 29-27.
Things looked good for Utica, late in the third. Kevin Walton (eight points) hit a baseline 3-pointer (like the one that sent Wednesday’s game into OT.) The Redskins got the ball right back and Dassylva fed the ball to Kyle Walton, who hit the bucket and the lead was nine once again, 42-33.
Dassylva fired a pass to Metzger, who waiting down in the low post for the reverse layup. His shot kept the Redskins ahead, 44-37 with time running out in the third quarter.
That was when Utica’s season came to a crashing halt. The Tigers got a bucket by Mycol Madison to end the third quarter and a 3-pointer by Laster to lead off the final quarter.
“That gave them a lot of momentum going into the fourth,” said Sheck.
East forward Jerry Dixon (18 points) hit a basket and then, stole the ball right back on a bad pass and hit another. When he converted on the ensuing foul shot, East was suddenly ahead, 48-44.
It didn’t stop there. East turned up the defensive pressure on the Redskins to throw them out of their game. When East wasn’t stealing the ball and running to the basket, they were playing offensive cat and mouse and running down the clock. Utica had to foul East to get the ball back, but by the time East was done, they had sealed the Redskins fate with a 21-0 run to take a commanding 58-44 lead.
“I thought that we executed our game plan very well for three quarters,” said Sheck. “I thought that we were very patient offensively. We limited their key players. We didn’t stop them, but we limited them through three quarters. All of a sudden, they go on a 21-0 run and we have six turnovers in the fourth quarter. Give them credit, they turned up their defensive intensity. They got after us a little bit and we weren’t able to handle it for four quarters, but our guys battled the whole night and did everything that we asked them to do. They played their rear ends off like they did all season long. We just came up on the short end tonight.”