Momentum shift leads Malvern past Central in D-IV

BYESVILLE – One game doesn’t come down to one shot.

But, this one shot shifted Uncle Mo from one side of the gym to the other.

Malvern’s Trey Tucci picked up a loose ball and let one fly from half court and the bank shot found the net and gave the Hornets a 42-37 lead over Steubenville Catholic Central as time expired in the third quarter.

Malvern went on to earn a 56-43 victory over the Crusaders in the 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,” said Crusaders coach Sean Tucker. “If there’s anybody that 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 ball club. They truly are. We battled them at home (a 62-56 Central victory last month). 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 gave for the blue-and-gold.

“If I were ever to get into a fight, I’m calling them first because they’re tough,” said Tucker 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 tomorrow when we don’t have practice.

“I have six guys in there that I’m never going to get to scream their name, or slap them on the behind and tell them ‘good job.’ That’s difficult because what these six guys represent is they put Central basketball back on the map. If you can define character in the dictionary, you’ll get a picture of six kids from Central inside because they are the true meaning of character in our school and what we represent.

“When they walk out of this locker room, they are going to walk out with something bigger than can ever be given. They have a bond and they have something that they established that can never be taken away from them and no loss can ever take away.

“They established the pride of our basketball program and we owe everything to those six seniors.

“I truly sick, but, at the same time, I’m truly blessed because God has given me the opportunity to be around a group of men whom I’ll never get to coach again.”

Tucci buried a three late in the first quarter for an 11-8 lead.

Fletcher got hot in the second period, 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 Central to six points in the final eight minutes.

“We knew tonight was going to come down to key possessions and that’s what it did,” said Tucker. “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.

“In the second half, they started face-guarding Ryan Fletcher. We have an offense that we set good screens for him and he’s able to pop out and that frees up other guys to score.”

Manfresca had five points in the third quarter and took a couple of charges defensively.

“Our spacing hurt us (in the second half),” Tucker said. “We weren’t spaced well enough. We had guys cutting to the bucket and we didn’t see the cutters well.”

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 caroms. Haasz added 10 and seven.

“We did a great job of boxing out the first three quarters of the game,” said Tucker. “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.

“We tried to stay right in Fletcher’s face because we have that much respect for him,” said coach Tucci, whose team faces rival Hiland at 1 p.m. Saturday. “They had other kids starting to make shots in the third quarter.

“Finally, in the fourth quarter they cooled off a little bit and we got every rebound.”

Malvern 56, Catholic Central 43

Catholic Central 8 16 13 6 – 43

Malvern 11 15 16 14 – 56

CATHOLIC CENTRAL (18-7): Fletcher 6 2-4 19, Manfresca 3 1-2 7, Colabella 3 0-0 7, Martello 3 0-0 6, Dombrowski 1 0-0 2, T. Barber 1 0-0 2, M. Barber 0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 17 3-6 43. 3-pointers: Fletcher 5, Colabella.

MALVERN (19-6): Tucci 7 2-4 18, Loomis 6 2-5 14, Haasz 5 0-0 10, Majestic 2 4-4 8, Thomas 3 0-0 6, Graves 0 0-0 0, Blick 0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 23 8-13 56. 3-pointers: Tucci 2.