BYESVILLE — When a swarm of Hornets is around, it’s not likely you’ll be able to relax much — not even if you are a Tiger.
Unbeaten Malvern High had the stingers out early and Shadyside never fully recovered despite staying within striking range until the final four minutes and the result was a 75-60 victory by the unbeaten Hornets in the Division IV District championship game in front of a packed house at Meadowbrook High School on Saturday.
With its 24th victory of the season, Malvern advances to the Division IV Regional Tournament at the Canton Fieldhouse. The No. 2-ranked Hornets will play Columbiana (a 73-67 winner over McDonald in Struthers District final) on Tuesday at 6:15 p.m.
“We’re like a slow-pitch softball team,” Malvern coach Dennis Tucci stated as his team was cutting down the nets. “You’re going to have to outslug us to beat us and put up 75 or more because we’re going to score.”
On the other side, Shadyside saw its season end at 21-3, and the inability to relax and play its game proved costly, according to Coach Ed Andes.
“We came out too excited and didn’t move the ball well at all,” Andes acknowledged. “Everything went wrong that could go wrong. You can’t let a team like Malvern get a lead on you, but we did just that and had to battle back the whole game.
“We just couldn’t relax all game, especially on offense,” the Shadyside coach continued. “We were able to penetrate and kick all year, and if we did that twice today, I sure missed it. We haven’t been down all season and we just didn’t handle that very well.”
Malvern buzzed out to a 14-2 lead in the first four minutes behind six points from Tyler Tucci. Shadyside, which had six turnovers in the opening period, managed to get the lead down to nine (20-11) on a three-point heave from beyond midcourt by Justin Andes.
The Hornets maintained an 11-to-13 point lead over the first five minutes of the second chapter before Shadyside’s Billy Merryman showed the eye of a Tiger and single-handedly led an 11-5 spurt in the final three minutes — hitting three “triples” and a runner in the lane including the last “three” just before time expired to pull Shadyside within 34-27 at the half.
The two quarter-ending buckets by Shadyside certainly brought back unhappy memories from Malvern’s Tucci.
“They hit a halfcourt shot and another buzzer-beater, but it didn’t hurt as bad this time,” he said, referring to last year’s game-ending halfcourt heave that gave Hiland the district title over his squad. “It brought back memories, but this time I looked up at the scoreboard and we were still ahead.”
Merryman’s antics continued at the outset of the third quarter he tallied nine of his team’s 10 points in the first five minutes to keep Shadyside within striking range, but Malvern standout Zak Kapron scored seven straight on the other side to made it a 46-37 issue with 2:27 left in the period and by quarter’s end, the Hornets’ lead was 52-45.
A “three” by Jared Andes got Shadyside within six (56-50) with 6:10 remaining, but a three-point play by Tucci and a driving layup by Jamar Stephens pushed Malvern’s advantage back to 11 (61-50) at 5:20. The Tigers got two free throws from Andes and a close-range goal by Nathan Butts to slice the gap back to seven (61-54) with 4:32 left, but a 14-1 run by the Hornets over the next three minutes pushed the lead to 20 and turned out the lights.
“We were pretty good coming out of the gate today,” Malvern’s Tucci stated, “and we had one good spurt left in us at the end. There was no quit in the Tigers, that’s for sure. They were aggressive and tried to frustrate us, but we battled through it and go the open shots. We got a lot of inside points today — we only hit one three all game — and that’s part of our game, so we’ll have to correct that.”
Malvern got big-time efforts from its two Eastern District Co-Player of the Year honorees as Tucci finished with 24 points and eight rebounds while Kapron was a monster on the inside with 22 tallies and a whopping 18 rebounds. Trevor Halter — Malvern’s third Eastern District first team selection — contributed 14 points and nine boards.
The Hornets were 28-of-52 from the field (53.8 percent), but just 1-of-13 from beyond the three-point arc. Malvern also ht 18-of-31 free throw attempts; had 42 rebounds and 11 turnovers.
For Shadyside, Merryman led the way with 20 points and five rebounds. Jared Andes closed with a dozen tallies, all in the second half; Butts had 11 points and B.A. Holloway collected nine points and eight rebounds and Drew Kennon added seven boards.
The Tigers were 22-of-69 from the field (31.9 percent), including 8-of-30 from three-point distance and 8-of-11 at the charity stripe. Shadyside finished with 39 rebounds and 10 turnovers.