NEW PHILADELPHIA - The shots just weren't falling for Steubenville Catholic in Saturday's Division IV sectional final.
The Crusaders misfired on their first six attempts, fell behind 13-0 and dropped a 67-41 verdict to state-ranked Malvern inside the New Philadelphia High School gymnasium.
While Sean Tucker's club was struggling, the Hornets seemingly couldn't miss in the early going. They swished five of their first six - three coming from behind the arc - to build a lead they would never relinquish. Central didn't get its initial points until Brenton Colabella knocked down a triple with less than 3 minutes remaining in the opening stanza.
Ryan Fletcher then scored off a Jon Emmerling assist and the Crusaders were down 16-5. Malvern outscored Central 12-8 in the second period to take a 28-13 halftime lead.
Central hoisted 25 shots from the floor in the first half, connecting on just five. Meanwhile, Malvern's defensive pressure forced nine Crusader turnovers.
"We had some really great looks for shots, but just couldn't knock them down," Tucker said. "Defensively, we did some good things but they were able to make their shots."
The Crusaders did make a nice run to open the third quarter. Michael Carapellotti canned two three-balls and Zach Herrington added another as Central pulled to within nine at 31-22.
Malvern's Travis Tucci and Herrington exchanged buckets before Brannt Pieniazek converted a conventional three-point play following a strong drive to the hoop. Tucker's squad went five for seven from the field and trailed by just six (33-27).
The Hornets, however, responded with a 9-1 scoring spurt and led 42-28 heading into the fourth quarter. Travis Tucci scored six of the nine and Trey Tucci the other three. Malvern registered 25 markers during the final eight minutes to put the game away.
"These kids stuck to the game play and did everything they prepared for," Tucker said. "I'm extremely proud of them. They went up against the eighth-ranked team in the state and gave it all they had.
"We cut the lead down a few times then we had a couple of miscues. You just can't let that happen when you play a really great team like Malvern."
The Hornets (19-3) will move on to district play at Meadowbrook High School. Central drops the curtain at 12-10.
Herrington scored 10 points, all coming in the second half, to pace the Crusaders. He and Colabella each had six rebounds. Fletcher and Carapellotti finished with eight points apiece and Pieniazek added seven.
The Tucci boys combined for 43 points to lead the Hornets, Travis Tucci had 18, Trey Tucci 15 (all coming via the three-ball) and Tyson Tucci10.
Central managed to make just 13 of 56 field goal tries. Malvern, on the other hand, shot 50 percent, hitting 26 of 52. The Crusaders were whistled for 21 turnovers.
"I just want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart to our three seniors (Emmerling, Pieniazek and Steve Mihalyo) for the four years they have been a part of my life," Tucker said. "I'm really sick for these kids. They show everything Central is about. That's what they represent - everything Central stands for.
"I'm honored to have been a part of their lives for four years. I'm really sad we couldn't get one more for them. I really wanted them to be able to cut down some nets."