Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
With just four games remaining on their Southwestern Conference schedule, the Berea-Midpark Titans went into their game at Westlake knowing they controlled their own destiny.
But at the same time, head coach Duke Barther's team wasn't looking any farther ahead than Friday night's encounter with the Demons.
Westlake, which defeated Berea-Midpark on their new home floor last season, made a number of runs at the defending SWC champs throughout the second half. But the titans were equal to the task and left the Westlake Athletic Center with a 56-45 win that kept them all alone atop the conference standings.
Berea-Mdpark moved to 8-1 in the SWC, just one game ahead of idle North Olmsted (8-2). The Titans will again face Westlake this coming Tuesday in the makeup of an earlier game cancelled due to weather.
The Titans will then face Brecksville on the road before closing out the conference season with what could be a championship game with North Olmsted.
But first things first, according to Berea-Midpark head coach Duke Barther, whose team moved to 16-3 on the season.
"Our guys know about that," said Barther of the close conference race. "But I also don't want our guys to feel that pressure.
"They play, and they like to compete. We've competed hard and played well all year, so I don't want them to start thinking about something down the line. We've just got to focus on our next game," he said.
The Titans needed that focus early on Friday night as the Demons had things knotted up at 13-all early on a 3-pointer from sophomore guard Rico Tate. But a tip-in from 6-11 senior Nolan Gerrity and three free throws from senior guard Jamie Bloxson gave the visitors an 18-13 advantage heading into the second quarter.
As it turned out, the Titans never trailed never trailed in the game and were able to build their lead form there.
Senior guard Demonte Taborn drained a trey from the left corner, then 6-2 junior forward Joey Bachie his a 3-pointer of his own to help push the titan lead to nine, 24-15. Westlake came back with a 3-pointer from sophomore guard Noah Meek, but that turned out to be the only Demon busker of the quarter.
Westlake managed just one more free throw the rest of the half and found itself on the wrong end of a 29-19 score at the half.
"A few shots go in here or there, maybe things are different," said Hood, whose team made just six baskets in 19 shot attempts in the first half.
"We didn't shoot very well. You'd think that in your building, you'd shoot the ball better than we did in the first half," Hood continued. "Had we done that, who knows what this game would have been like down the stretch.
"They have four inches on us at probably every position. But we fought and we battled, and I was pleased with that," he added.
In the third quarter, the Titan lead continued to grow. They led by as many as 18 points, 39-21, on a conventional 3-point play from Bachie and a fast break hoop from Gerrity midway through the frame.
Westlake, however, kept coming. a 3-pointer from Tate and a drive for two from Meek cut the Demon deficit to 11, 43-32, as the third quarter came to a close. But Berea-Midpark responded and eventually pushed the lead back out to 16, 50-34, on a steal for two and free throw from 6-6 junior Brett Swinnerton.
Westlake got the deficit back down to nine on a Meek trey with40 seconds left in the game. But those were the final Demon points of the game as free throws from Bachie and junior Nick Gassman closed things out.
We knew it was going to be a tough game," said Bachie, who led the Titans in scoring with 17 points while pulling down six rebounds.
"Most of our guys hadn't even won in this building yet," Bachie continued. "We knew we had to take it one game at a time, and this was out next one. We knew they were shooters, so we had to come out ready to play.
"Once we started getting in a groove, we were alright," he added.
"We were ready to play," he said.
"I thought we came out and played very hard. And Shawn's got his team playing very, very hard. They really get after it," Barther said. "We knew they weren't going back down from us, and they didn't. It was a good game.
"Now going into our place, I'd much rather have a game where we win by 10 or 11 points rather than win by 30. We know going into Tuesday that if we don't come in focused and ready to play they can get us," he added.
Gerrity, Bloxson and Swinnerton each scored 10 points in what proved to be a balanced Titan attack. Gerrity was a force on the boards with 11 rebounds, while Bloxson snared eight and Swinnerton seven.
The taller Titans dominated the board battle, 40-23.
For the Demons, Meek came off the bench to port in 18 points, including four 3-pointers. Tate added 12 points, while junior guard Andris Balodis chipped in with eight. Senior Cameron Brown led the home team in rebounding with eight, while Tate grabbed six.
"We were within striking distance at times in the second half, but that doesn't happen if you're not fighting in the first half," Hood said. "It would have gotten away from us in the first half if we weren't fighting.
"That's why I'm not displeased about our performance tonight. The ball is going to go in sometimes, and sometimes it's not. But you don't want to do things where you have to count on every shot going in. You want to play well in all the other areas, and that's what gives you the chance to win.
"It was a good challenge for us. I looked out on the floor, and we often had two juniors, two sophomores and a senior out there. That bodes well for the future," he added.
For Berea-Midpark, the future is now. And it looks bright, according to Barther.
"I think we're still getting better," Barther said. "We're still putting some different stuff in. We put a little run-and-jump in last week. We've got to work more on it, but overall I think our guys are getting better.
"I think at the end of the year you want to be peaking, and I think that we are. We lost that game to Brecksville, and I think we've won eight or nine straight games since then. We're playing well at the right time, and our kids have a good attitude.
"That doesn't mean that someone can't come in and play better than us. But I'm happy with the way our guys are playing right now. We'll just keep coming to practice every day, competing and looking at it one game at a time.
"That's the goal," he added.
(Feel free to follow us on Twitter @BeAFanatic. And don't forget to check out our Facebook page, because you never know what you're going to find there: BeAFanatic.com
Click on the cameras below to view Larry's photos and video highlights from this game: