Coal Ridge boys basketball grinds out 6-point win over Jefferson Academy in first round of regional tournament
With just one quarter remaining in Friday’s 3A regional tournament game at Coal Ridge High School between the No. 6 Titans and the No. 27 Jefferson Academy Jaguars, Titan seniors Payton White and Kevin DiMarco wouldn’t be denied.
After the visiting Jaguars closed the gap to 3 points heading into the final quarter of play thanks to a 5-0 run to close the third quarter, White scored 9 fourth-quarter points, and DiMarco capped off the win in emphatic fashion, dunking on a baseline drive to send the Titans to the regional tournament championship game Saturday against the No. 11 Resurrection Christian Cougars, which defeated No. 22 Grand Valley 78-56 in the nightcap in New Castle.
“I’m incredibly proud of those guys,” said Paul Harvey, Coal Ridge’s head coach. “They’ve been in these big games before and they want to go deeper into the playoffs than we’ve ever been. They’re incredibly determined and they just decided to play some ball in the fourth quarter.”
Prior to the fourth quarter heroics by the two seniors, Coal Ridge found itself in a battle with the Jaguars, who caught fire from beyond the arc late in the first quarter thanks to junior Elian Soto and senior Riley Welsch’s lights-out shooting.
Junior Austin Gerber started the game with a 3-pointer from the left corner before senior Kevyn Flores hit a putback in the lane, pushing the Titans out to a quick 5-0 lead. Welsh then found his stroke from deep, hitting a 3-pointer from the top of the key to make it 5-3. White responded with a 3-pointer to put the Titans back in front by five before senior Jesus Camunez drilled a 3-pointer of his own, giving the Titans an 11-3 lead.
Welsh pull the Jaguars back to within five at 11-6 thanks to his second 3-pointer of the quarter, giving the Jaguars some momentum heading into the second quarter of play.
In the second quarter, Gerber hit another early 3-pointer, making it 14-8 Titans, but the Jaguars went on a 5-0 run to pull to within one point at 14-13. Thats when things started to go Jefferson Academy’s way as Welsh and Soto hit 3-pointers, giving the Jaguars a 19-18 lead over the Titans, hushing the home crowd for a brief stretch.
Fortunately for Coal Ridge, the Titans closed on a 3-0 run thanks to a layup from Gerber and a free throw from sophomore Moises Contreras, sending the Titans into the half with a 21-19 lead.
After coming out of the room for the second half, Coal Ridge looked locked in as Gerber hit his third 3-pointer of the game to open the second half, while Flores hit a tough layup through contact, sinking the free throw to make it 27-21 Titans.
Soto and DiMarco traded buckets to make it 29-23 Titans before DiMarco hit a spinning layup along the baseline, giving the Titans an 8-point lead late in the third quarter. Trailing by eight for the second time in the game, the Jaguars rallied again as junior David Strasbaugh hit two free throws and senior Montie Pons-Benedict hit a 3-pointer from the right corner, stunning the Titans as the two teams headed into the final quarter of play.
Seeing his players a bit dazed, Harvey rallied his team prior to the start of the fourth quarter with some encouraging words.
“They just had a little bit of a blank stare,” said Harvey following the win. “I said, ‘let’s go, lets play with some fire.’ I wanted them to play with some passion, put in the effort and match it with the intensity. We had a game-plan and it was working for the most part; we just weren’t executing it.”
Following the quick chat before the start of the fourth quarter, the Titans came out playing with passion as White hit a layup through contact on the first possession, sinking the ensuing free throw for the 3-point play, giving the Titans a 34-28 lead.
White then hit two free throws on the next possession, making it 36-28, giving his teammates some breathing room.
Soto wouldn’t go away quietly for the Jaguars as the junior scorched the net from deep in the fourth quarter, hitting two quick 3-pointers to make it 36-34. A layup by Coal Ridge sophomore Hank DiMarco made it 38-34, but Soto answered with his third 3-pointer of the quarter, making it a 1-point game midway through the fourth.
White again stepped it up for the Titans, going on a quick 4-0 run himself with two free throws and a layup, but Welsch hit two free throws of his own, making it a 3-point game at 42-39.
That’s when DiMarco came through for the Titans, hitting a free throw and dunking on the Jefferson Academy defense off a baseline drive, making it a 45-39 game. However, at the end of DiMarco’s dunk, an official called a technical foul on the big Titan senior, saying he hung on the rim a bit too long, giving the Jaguars late life.
Soto hit both technical free throws, but the technical didn’t come back haunt the Titans as Gerber iced the game with two late free throws, and the Coal Ridge defense clamped down on any comeback attempt by the Jaguars.
“We made some adjustments and started face-guarding eleven [Soto], and that seemed to throw them off,” said Harvey. “We also put in Moises [Contreras] defensively; we call him the plague because he just infects the opponents offense and kills it. He loves that role and he reeks havoc.
“Our defense down the stretch tonight looked like it did in the district tournament,” added Harvey. “We work on defense a lot; I’m not one of those coaches that preaches defense and then works on shooting all practice. We work on our defense a lot, and we grind. It’s nice to see that their effort and focus paid off.”
The win sends the Titans to the regional championship game at home for the second straight year. Coal Ridge last played Resurrection Christian during the 2017-18 regular season at home. The Titans lost that matchup 69-54.
Gerber and White led the Titans with 15 and 14 points, respectively. Soto and Welsh led the Jaguars with 18 and 14 points each.