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Flyers face familiar foe in district semifinal

Mark Hazelwood • Updated Mar 6, 2018 at 3:22 AM

NORWALK — Win one game, play for a championship.

The St. Paul boys basketball team took that mindset last week in the Division IV Galion sectional, and ended up cutting the nets down after an upset of South Central.

Now, the Flyers (13-11) will try to take that same approach in tonight’s district semifinal matchup vs. Colonel Crawford (19-4) at 6:15 p.m. at Willard High School.

“Last week, we approached it like a two-game tournament, and hopefully we can get two more games this week,” St. Paul coach Mike Smith said. “It took longer than we wanted, but I think we’ve caught on. At this point we’ll enjoy it, and try to get to a district championship game.”

St. Paul finished .500 in the regular season, with a season-best win streak of three games and a season-worst losing streak of four games.

The Flyers opened tournament play with a 60-45 sectional semifinal win over Crestline on Feb. 27, earning a third meeting with the Firelands Conference co-champion Trojans.

South Central had won the regular season meetings by 19 (Jan. 18) and 10 (Feb. 23), but the Flyers jumped out to a big lead early and held on late for a 66-63 win to advance.

In the win, St. Paul was just three points shy of putting six different players in double figures in scoring.

“We feel like we’re playing our best basketball at this point,” Smith said. “I think they believe they can win any game they play, and talent-wise, we have a lot of ability and we’re starting to see a lot of that come out.

“We brought back one starter who has had an injured shoulder (Paul Pearce) and another kid off the bench (Chris Ruffing) entering the season,” he added. “Chris and Nick (Lukasko) have fought ankle injuries, and Kaden (Rossman) has been out … things haven’t been the smoothest, it’s taken a while, but these kids have fought through it all.”

The Flyers are quite familiar with the Eagles, who advanced with a 67-50 win over St. Mary Central Catholic last Friday. The two teams played in the exact same game at Willard a year ago, with Crawford forcing overtime and ending St. Paul’s season at 16-8 with a 57-49 win.

Sophomore point guard Cameron McCreary (6-foot-1) leads Crawford with 15 points, four rebounds and 7.3 assists per game. Senior forward Harley Shaum (6-4) averages 13.1 points and 8.3 rebounds per game.

But in the win over SMCC last week, role players such as Brady Martin and Gavin Felchtner exploded for 26 and 11 points each, respectively.

“Obviously they have a lot of talent and are very good offensively, especially in transition,” Smith said of Crawford. “It starts with McCreary, who does great job of distributing the ball, and Shaum runs the floor very well. But they have shooters everywhere with good size.

“It’s a talented, young team with good shooters,” he added. “They start four sophomores and bring another off the bench. They are young, but experienced.”

Nick Winslow averages 8.9 points and 2.7 assists per game for St. Paul, while Ruffing adds 8.3 per game with 6.8 rebounds per game. Jake Griffin scores eight points per game and Pearce averages 6.7 points and 4.1 rebounds

Ruffing led a balanced attack with 15 points and 13 rebounds, with Lukasko adding 10 points and nine rebounds to help put the Flyers in the district round for a 15th time in the last 24 seasons, looking to reach a district title game for the first time since 2010.

“You feel happy for the kids, their hard work and hanging in there is paying off,” Smith said. “It would have been easy to check out, but our seniors really rose up last week. Nick, Chris and Paul really played well, and the two freshman (Winslows) are playing like sophomores now.

“Jake has stepped up and done a nice job for us as a kid we’ve been trying to get to shoot and be more aggressive,” he added. “Ian (Kashian) and Treg (Smith) have done a great job inside for us depending on what we need.”

Smith noted even as the No. 6 seed in the district, there were teams that avoided playing the Flyers.

“We’ve been playing our best basketball in the tournament, and teams sometimes avoid us because they respect our program,” he said. “I think locally and some people in our community don’t quite understand that — the 7 and 8-seed teams went away from us, and that’s happened in numerous years.

“We take a lot of pride in our program,” Smith added. “We give everything we can. Every day look I look in the mirror and can say I do my best, and our coaching staff really stresses and relates that to our kids.”

In the second game tonight, Associated Press poll champion and top seed Mansfield St. Peter’s (23-0) faces Lucas (15-8).

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