YOUNGSTOWN - Mineral Ridge senior Jonathon Baker spent last winter preparing for his final stint as the Rams' quarterback.
He stepped away from the hardwood to focus on the gridiron.
This year, he's back in the Mineral Ridge starting lineup, which is good for him - and even better for the Rams.
"By the third game I went to last year I was missing it," Baker said. "I needed to come back and play again."
If it was another season on the shelf, Baker would've missed his golden moment to shine on Sunday night. At the third annual Lariccia's See Them Rise Showcase, Baker sparked a second-quarter rally which gave the Rams a 13-point halftime lead over Crestview. They held on for a 57-47 win at the Covelli Centre.
"This is great," said Ridge coach Chris Kohl. "When they saw the schedule they were excited. They were so pumped to come down to the Covelli Centre.
"It's like playing big time basketball. I told them it'll be like playing at the old St. John Arena (in Columbus). I love coming here. I told (showcase director) Mark Metzga to put us down for next year. I just love the atmosphere. I wish some of the high school tournaments were down here. It's a special place. We need to use it more."
Senior Zac Hagy said it took awhile to adjust with the larger court, brighter lights and arena-style setting, but it didn't show on the scoreboard.
"It was a great environment, but it was hard to get used to at first," said Hagy, who scored a game-high 23 points. "Some shots didn't feel right at the beginning."
The Rams (8-6) led 13-7 after the first quarter and went on a 10-2 run in the second. Baker stole an errant pass in the backcourt and took it the distance for a lay up to put Ridge up 19-9 at the 4:20 mark of the second. The next play, he did the same to extend the lead.
He finished with four steals.
"He's been a blessing for this basketball team," Kohl. "He's been really special for us. He's real solid with great defense. You can't find many guys who look at defense first and scoring second."
The Rams were playing with confidence, which was a curse for the second half.
"I think we got a little happy," Kohl said. "We've been struggling a little bit then take a 13-point lead in this one. Coming out after halftime we took a lot of bad shots and quit doing what we were doing well in the first half."
Crestview outscored the Rams 18-9 in the third quarter. The Rebels took their first lead of the game, 39-38, on a Josh McDade jumper at the 7:11 mark of the third.
"It was transition," said Crestview coach Herman Miller. "They were able to set their zone the entire first half and we just let them do it. I thought we got outlets and got down the floor and scored when the defense wasn't set.
"We held them down while we were making a run."
There were four lead changes in the first two minutes of the fourth quarter. Hagy capped an 8-0 which put the Rams up 50-43 with less than three minutes remaining. He scored on a layup with 59 seconds left which ensured the double digit victory.
Hagy scored 10 points in the fourth quarter and grabbed 10 rebounds for the game.
"Do we have anybody designed to match him up perfectly?" Miller said. "No. They have a number of guys who are difficult to figure out."
Corey Phillips finished with eight points, three steals and two assists, Brandon Perkins added four points off the bench and Ryan Nutter, a 6-foot-7 center, had seven rebounds and finished with 16 points.
"You got to make him move defensively," Miller said. "He excels when he's in control."
Eric Lloyd led Crestview with 15 points, while McDade finished with 12.
M. RIDGE: 13-16-9-19-57
CRESTVIEW SCORING: Dylan Hart 0-2-2, Evan Beachler 4-0-12, Collin Gilbert 1-0-2, Josh McDade 5-2-12, Enzo Lucci 1-0-3, Tyler Stratton 0-1-1, Eric Lloyd 6-3-15. TEAM TOTALS: 17, 8-14: 47.
M. RIDGE SCORING: Corey Phillips 2-3-8, Jonathan Baker 2-0-4, Zack Hagy 11-1-23, Ryan Nutter 7-2-16, Brandon Perkins 2-0-4, Ethan Dukes 0-2-2. TEAM TOTALS: 24, 8-14: 57.
Three-point goals: Crestview 5 (Beachler 4, Lucci), M. Ridge 1 (Phillips).