BYESVILLE – Malvern’s Trey Tucci picked up a loose ball and let one fly from midcourt and the bank shot found the net and gave the Hornets a 42-37 lead against Steubenville Catholic Central as time expired in the third quarter.
Malvern went on to earn a 56-43 victory against the Crusaders in and Ohio Division IV district semifinal at Meadowbrook High School on Wednesday.
“We ran a blast to get us in there (at the end of the quarter) and Tony (Barber) did a great job getting to the bucket, (Mitch) Loomis was able to get a hand on the ball, the ball juggles around a little bit and Tucci picks it up,” Crusaders coach Sean Tucker said. “If there’s anybody that shot’s going to fall for, it’s going to be him.
“It was an uppercut. They hit the halfcourt shot and then get the ball out and score. It was like a five-point play. That’s difficult to come back from against a really good team. It truly is.
“Take nothing away from them. Malvern’s a great ballclub. They truly are. We battled them at home. We battle every time we play. We have a lot of respect for them. I have a lot of respect for Denny (head coach Dennis Tucci) and what he does. And, he has a lot of respect for us.
“The only reason he has respect for me is because of those six seniors in there.”
Those six seniors – Ryan Fletcher, Michael Barber, Matt Martello, Michael Manfresca, Brenton Colaballa and John Paul Dombrowski – played their final game for the blue-and-gold.
“If I were ever to get into a fight, I’m calling them first because they’re tough,” Tucker said after an 18-7 campaign. “I’ve been tough on those kids for four years and they’ve been tough on me. But, they know there’s nothing that we wouldn’t do for each other.
“It’s hard right now, but it’s going to be even tougher (today) when we don’t have practice.”
Tucci buried a 3 late in the first quarter for an 11-8 lead.
Fletcher got hot in the second, blitzing the net four times from beyond the arc for 12 points and the Hornets held a 26-24 lead at the break.
“We did a lot better on him,” Coach Tucci said of his club holding Fletcher to three second-half points. “We know he’s good. It’s not like we didn’t go into the game thinking we have to stop him. But, we couldn’t find him sometimes. And, he made shots.
“We know he can make shots, but we were more worried about him going to the hoop, initially. He went off. In the second half, we decided we have to face guard him. We started with (Mitch) Haasz on him and Haasz hurt him some. But, most of it was Collen Thomas and he did a great job.”
Malvern held Steubenville Catholic to six points in the final eight minutes.
“We knew (it) was going to come down to key possessions and that’s what it did,” Tucker said. “We knew both teams were going to be patient offensively and get after it defensively and it was going to come down to who executed more on the offensive end.
“The final score does not represent how close the game was.
“It came down to a couple of key executions and they executed a little bit better than we did.”
Manfresca had five points in the third quarter and took a couple of charges defensively.
Loomis led the Hornets with 14 points, 13 rebounds and 11 blocked shots (eight in the second half). Tucci finished with 18 points and six rebounds and Haasz added 10 and seven.
“We did a great job of boxing out the first three quarters of the game,” Tucker said. “It kind of got away from us a little bit in the fourth quarter.”
Fletcher paced the Crusaders with 19 points and six rebounds. Colabella added seven points and five boards and Manfresca seven points and five rebounds.