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Boardman boys fall short in districts again

March 11, 2020
Nik Zirounis , The Town Crier

For the second straight season, the Boardman boys basketball team had the talent to win a district championship. Unfortunately, for the second straight season it came up two wins shy of that accomplishment.

The third seeded Spartans were beaten 59-47 by number two seed Canton McKinley in the Canton district semifinals played March 5 at the Canton Civic Center. Boardman's boys hadn't lost a game since mid-January. This loss in the districts was their only other one as the Spartans ended this season 22-2.

"It's not a celebration to get (to the districts) anymore," said head coach Pat Birch last week. "Our goal was to be playing on Saturday."

Saturday was the day that the Bulldogs battled top seeded Green for the Canton crown. McKinley got there because it was able to find scoring from more than one star player. Birch's game plan entering the semifinal was to put the clamps on McKinley's best scorer Kobe Johnson. For the most part, Boardman's Ethan Andersen did just that. The Spartan junior jumped in front of Johnson whenever he had the ball, forcing him to alter his shots. Kobe did connect for nine points in the opening quarter, but Andersen shut him down the rest of the half. That defense helped the Spartans keep the game close going into halftime.

"Ethan had a great game (guarding Johnson)," said Birch.

Boardman battled from behind after intermission and was able to forge into the lead. Senior leading scorer Derek Anderson, who was also held down in the first half, started to heat things up as Boardman built a 29-24 lead. With Johnson being kept in check, junior shooter Mehki Smith stepped up in his stead and started raining shots from beyond the 3-point arc. His triple with 2:45 left in the third period pulled McKinley back to within a bucket of a tie. A couple more 3-pointers later and the Bulldogs had rebuilt a 34-31 lead heading into the fourth quarter. Smith sunk a total of four three's in the second half and five for the game. It was a barrage that had the Boardman bench boss in disbelief.

"I felt like we really outplayed (McKinley) in the third quarter," said Birch. "We got a nice little lead. We didn't win the quarter, but we were feeling good about ourselves. Then they hit a couple of big shots that really broke our backs."

Led by Smith's hot shooting the Bulldogs built a 10-point advantage midway through the fourth period. Anderson tried to match Smith's heroics by scoring a dozen points in the last stanza keeping the Spartans close. His late 3-pointer had Boardman within two possessions of the lead with about a minute remaining. It was too little too late for the Spartans who have now failed to reach a district final every year since 1979. They also lost last season's district semi to Green.

The most disappointing part to Boardman bowing out of the playoffs was that it became the last high school game for Anderson. The defending All American Conference Player of the Year has an excellent shot at repeating that feat this year. He will be joined in his graduating class by a whole bunch of Boardman players that led this program to 42-6 record the past two campaigns. Major contributors Daeone Martin, Tommy Fryda, Zach Ryan, Connor Miller and Charlie Davis will also be exiting this June. It's a group that has left an indelible mark on Coach Birch.

"They have accomplished so much," Birch said about that senior bunch. "They've had a really good run. Our program is way better off because of them. It's a legacy the younger guys need to uphold."

With Andersen returning for what should be a spectacular senior season, the Spartans will have a great shot at continuing that legacy. Sophomore Trey DePietro also played important minutes this year and should continue to improve. Still, this was a Spartan squad deeply invested in its senior class so that's why losing after only one playoff win was so hard to take.

 
 

 

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