Historically, the best game of the day at the Larry Eberst Classic is the last game of the day. Every year, the Hayes Pacers are involved, and it was no different this year.
The sixth annual Eberst Classic nightcap — the match-up between the Pacers and county rival Buckeye Valley Barons — was a solid game in the first half, but Hayes’ pressure and transition game and a Baron cold spell in the third quarter lifted the Pacers to a 59-42 victory Saturday night at Hayes High School.
“We talked at halftime about getting stops, pressuring them and getting the ball into the post,” Hayes coach Jordan Blackburn said. “Tonight we scored 38 of our 59 points in the paint, which we thought was important. In the second half, we noticed we were getting into our transition more, but all that started by us getting stops. We had eight or nine straight stops in the third quarter. Our defense set up our offense in the second half.”
Hayes (6-2) found itself challenged through the first 16 minutes, as Buckeye Valley (3-5) matched the Pacers nearly point for point, rallying from a five-point deficit in the second quarter to take a brief 21-19 lead, and closing within a point of the hosts, 32-31, just under a minute into the second half.
“I thought our kids played very hard,” Buckeye Valley coach Andy Gast said. “I was very pleased. One of the things we talked about when we started the game was we wanted our kids to go out and compete. We wanted to try to get up and pressure their guards, and I thought we did a good job of that in the first half.”
“Our team identity is getting stops and getting out in transition,” Blackburn said. “When we play that way, we can be pretty good, but when we’re not communicating and fouling too much, and I thought we sent them to the line too many times in the first half, it makes it harder for us. I wasn’t pleased with how we played in the first half, and give a lot of credit to BV. They hit a lot of tough shots.”
But after that, the Pacers kicked the press into gear, forced turnovers, cleaned up on the boards and exploded into the fast break. In a span of just over six minutes, Hayes’ defense, sparked by senior Jante’ Wright and junior Hayden Dunlap, shut out the Baron offense while scoring the next 15 points, pushing the lead to 16 points, 47-31, less than a minute before the end of the third quarter.
“In our estimation, Jante’ was our player of the game in the second half,” Blackburn said. “He was just the leader of our press. I think he had five or six deflections, he brought the energy up, and he and Hayden made a huge difference in terms of pressuring them on defense and getting the ball inside on offense.”
“We went on a bad stretch,” Gast said. “That’s kind of been our problem all year, getting the ball in the basket. We’re playing so hard and playing such good defense, but we’ll go on these stretches where we can’t score. We got some good looks, but we just couldn’t put the ball in the basket, and we’ve got to work on that.”
Buckeye Valley senior Nate Cox sank a layup late in the period to end the run, and junior Devin Cramer opened the scoring in the fourth with a three-pointer to trim the lead back to 11, but that would be as close as the Barons could get.
“Give credit to Delaware,” Gast said. “They’re a good team. They have a lot of athletes and they have size. We were probably out-manned at most positions, but our kids played hard. We have a young varsity group and not a lot of our kids have much varsity experience, but we just have to keep plugging away and getting better.”
Hayes junior Khalil Iverson had game highs with 24 points and 10 rebounds, adding a pair of steals and two blocks. Senior Alex Stevens followed with 14 points and hauled down seven rebounds, Wright finished with seven points plus a team-leading four steals, and senior Phil Frentsos closed with five points.
Sophomore Jesse Tomlinson led the Barons with 17 points, adding two rebounds and two steals, with Cox adding nine points and four steals. Cramer and sophomore Mitch Rotondo finished with six points apiece, Rotondo adding four rebounds.
WESTERVILLE CENTRAL 82, OLENTANGY 50
The opening game of the sixth annual Larry Eberst Classic was expected to be a clash between two of the best shooters in Central Ohio — Olentangy junior guard Jimmy Gundling and Westerville Central forward Eric James. One of them had a special evening, but unfortunately for the Braves, it was the other guy.
James set a new Classic record with 34 points, leading the Warhawks to an 82-50 victory over Olentangy Saturday night at Hayes High School.
“I thought Westerville Central played a great basketball game,” Olentangy coach Chris Kelly said. “We hung with them for a quarter and a half, but it got a little out of sync and we got into some foul trouble, but credit them. They’re quick on offense, they’re fast and they cause you problems defensively with their length, speed and quickness.”
Olentangy (2-4) did indeed play right with Westerville Central (6-1), coached by former Buckeye Valley mentor — and good friend of Kelly’s — Donovon Barrett, through the first 10 minutes of the contest, but the Braves hit an icy stretch when they missed seven straight shots over a four-minute period while the Warhawks ran off 16 consecutive points in that same span, taking a 41-19 lead just two minutes before halftime.
James was the key. The senior went 7 of 12 from the floor in the first half and had 22 of his game-high 34 in the first 16 minutes while sinking three three-point goals.
Meanwhile, Gundling played despite suffering from back problems, and had a rough evening from the field, finishing with just six points while appearing to come up short on many of his shots.
“To be honest, Jimmy is hurting right now,” Kelly said. “Coming in, his back was very sore, and obviously I don’t think he knocked down many shots today. We needed our best player to have a great game today, and honestly, he’s probably more injured than he’s letting on, and that was a shame.”
The Braves used a late 7-2 run to slice the deficit back to 17, 43-26, at the half, and junior wing Ryan Sieve canned a layup early in the third quarter to trim it to 15. Westerville Central responded, scoring eight straight points in just over a minute to start a 17-2 run that pushed the lead to 30 points, 60-30, two minutes before the end of the period.
Olentangy would continue to fight despite the deficit, eventually emptying the bench to give the younger players some key time.
“That’s one good thing about us — we’ll keep playing hard,” Kelly said. “We’re so young, but I’ve never had guys who quit. I’m proud that we kept playing hard. We got a lot of good shots today, but we just didn’t knock many in. We did quite a few good things. We just didn’t get the result we wanted.”
Sophomores Christian Mazzeo and Seth O’Neal topped the Olentangy scorers with 10 points each, O’Neal adding four rebounds and three assists and Mazzeo adding two rebounds and a pair of steals. Sieve and sophomore Derrick Wyche chipped in eight points and one blocked shot each, Sieve pulling down a game-high nine rebounds and Wyche hauling in six.
Central’s Kwamel Wade also added 17 points and seven rebounds for the Warhawks, while Jalen Malone finished with seven points and six rebounds.