Down the stretch, the visiting Roughriders contested the Flyers’ shots and made free throws for the 61-56 Firelands Conference win inside the Harvey Keller Gymnasium at the Convocation Center in Norwalk.
Western kept its unbeaten league record alive at 12-0 and improved to 13-4 overall. St. Paul fell to 12-6 and 8-4 in the FC.
“We knew it was going to be a dog fight and fortunately for us, we hit some big shots at the right time and then we made free throws,” Western Reserve coach Chris Sheldon said. “And when you make free throws, you can close out basketball games and we did that.”
In the first quarter, Sheldon saw great leadership from senior Aiden Markley when several of Western’s leading scorers got in early foul trouble.
“Two of our top three leading scorers had two fouls — one with under a minute into the game,” Sheldon said. “Aiden Markley put us on our back and really, really carried us in the first half. … He was huge.
“I didn’t think we were using our brain, to be honest with you,” Sheldon added, referring to Western’s early fouls. “I thought we put ourselves in a couple really good bad spots and made it pretty easy for fouls to be called (on us). I thought it was that more than us being overly aggressive.”
Markley led Western with 18 points. His first four shots were all from three-point land and he scored 14 points in the first two quarters. The senior led his team with five rebounds and he distributed two assists.
Two more ’Riders hit double figures. Junior JJ Weisenberger and sophomore Luke Rowlinson each scored 10 points.
“Defensively, I thought for the most part we did what we wanted to do,” Sheldon said, referring to keeping the ball out of the hands of several St. Paul players. “They made some good adjustments at trying to get the ball into the paint, not settling for shots.”
The score was locked up at 5-5 in the early minutes. Western pulled ahead on a 5-0 run for a 10-5 lead with 4:59 in the first quarter.
St. Paul senior Jake Griffin electrified the home crowd on a runaway dunk with 25.6 seconds in the quarter. However, he got a technical for hanging on the rim. Western’s John Skrada made both free throws to give his team the 24-18 advantage.
“I thought we had two good basketball teams going at it. As it is with Western, you gotta try to guard the three-point line. They just had a few more possessions there at the end,” St. Paul coach Mike Smith said.
“We had it down there to one point and we needed to come up with a stop and I think we even had a chance to run out and take the lead and we didn’t take advantage of that,” he added. “I thought both teams battled hard. Both teams were really prepared.”
Sophomore Nate Winslow led the Flyers with 18 points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals. His twin brother Nick added 10 points.
Western freshman Jude Muenz grabbed five rebounds to go with three assists and a steal. Skrada had four rebounds, three assists and two steals.
Western took a 37-32 lead into the locker room.
Western had a 45-35 lead with 5:32 in the third quarter. St. Paul then went on a 6-0 run to trim it to 45-41. The period ended with the ’Riders up 51-45.
“I thought in the third quarter, when we pushed our lead back up, what hurt was we went through a stretch of about three minutes with a lot of careless turnovers,” Sheldon said. “Down the stretch I thought they had some big stick-backs and a couple of defensive rebounds, but when it really mattered with the game on the line, we were able to get a stop.
“Two times we walled up right at the front of the rim and I thought we did an outstanding job of making them take contested shots and then we rebounded it,” he added.
St. Paul started the fourth quarter on a 4-0 run, but Western remained ahead, 51-49. Nate Winslow’s only three-pointer came with 3.4 seconds left in the game to cut the visitors’ lead to 60-56.
“I thought we played pretty good basketball,” Smith said. “I don’t think it was a sloppy game; both teams defended their butts off (and) both teams were prepared. The difference is their ability to shoot the basketball and all we wanted to do was maybe get that lead.”
Western hit 11 three-pointers in the game.
In the junior varsity game, St. Paul had a dominating 59-28 win. Sophomore Scotty Adelman led the Flyers with 17 points. Junior Grant Houck aded 16.
St. Paul hosts Sandusky St. Mary Central Catholic (14-3) in a non-league game tonight.
“That’s going to have tournament implications as far as seeding goes. We’ve gotta be ready to go and put this one behind us and prepare (today) and get after it,” Smith said.
Western plays at South Central (15-3, 11-1) for the FC title next Friday.
“They are Hercules, Superman and Batman — all in one. But we’re going to try to be their Kryptonite,” Sheldon said.
Follow Reflector staff writer Cary Ashby on Facebook at “Cary Ashby — reporter & comic book blogger” and on Twitter at @Cary_reporter.
WESTERN RESERVE (13-4, 12-0)
Cory Hipp 2-0—4; JJ Weisenberger 4-0—10; John Skrota 3-2—9; Jude Muenz 2-2—7; Aiden Markley 6-1—18; Luke Rowlinson 3-2—10; Adam Lewis 1-0—2; Hayden Huntington 0-1—1. TOTALS 21-8—61.
ST. PAUL (12-5, 8-4)
Treg Smith 3-1—7; Jake Griffin 3-1—7; Nick Winslow 3-2—10; Brandon Furlong 2-0—4; Justin Hammersmith 1-0—2; Nate Winslow 8-1—18; Ian Kashian 2-2—6; Alex Kashian 1-0—2. TOTALS 23-7—56.
W. Reserve 26 11 14 10 — 61
St. Paul 20 12 13 11 — 56
3-point FGs: (WR) Weisenberger 2, Skrada, Muenz, Markley 5, Rowlinson 2; (SP) Nick Winslow (2), Nate Winslow
JV: St. Paul, 59-28