Canton Central puzzle not yet solved

South Range's Jaxon Anderson drives to the basket. (Photo by Gary Leininger)

SALEM — Second-seeded South Range was outscored 28-10 in the first half and found itself chasing the scoreboard and third-seeded Canton Central Catholic the rest of the way in a 59-44 loss in a D3 district semifinal boys’ basketball game at Salem’s John Cabas Gymnasium Tuesday night.

It marked the third consecutive year Central Catholic eliminated the Raiders in the district semifinals. South Range was the top seed the previous two seasons.

“Shot selection is everything,” said South Range coach John Cullen. “You’ve got to be on balance and you’ve got to be shooting the kind of shots you can make and we shot too many shots we couldn’t make tonight. They (the Crusaders) know how to get under your skin a little bit and know how to push you past your limits, and that’s a credit to them.”

“We went out to the quick lead and every year we’ve beaten South Range here we’ve been able to do that,” said Central Catholic coach Matt Creamer. “We work really hard defensively and I think we’re a real good defensive team.”

South Range bows out with a 17-7 record, while Central Catholic (16-8) advances to the district title game for a third consecutive season and will play fourth-seeded Mogadore (18-7) at 7 p.m. Friday in Salem. Mogadore pulled off the stunner of the tournament when it blasted No. 1 seed Waterloo 75-59 in a district semifinal Monday.

South Range placed one player in double figures in Ben Irons, who had 14 points, including two of the Raiders’ five three-pointers. Teammates Chris Brooks, Dante DiGaetano and Jaxon Anderson added nine, eight and seven points, respectively.

Central was paced by Angelo Milini with a game-high 18 points, while Dylan Johnson added 12 points and a game-high 12 rebounds and Alec Snalnaker finished with nine markers.

“We defended well, we boarded well and had good possessions,” said Creamer.

South Range played well in the second half against Central and outscored the Crusaders 34-31 in the final 16 minutes but the Raiders just couldn’t overcome the 19-point first-half deficit. Every time, South Range would make a mini run, Central would answer it.

Central Catholic’s defense successfully clogged the paint against the Raiders in the first half. South Range was limited to practically one shot every time it came down the court. Central held a whopping 22-7 edge on the boards in the first half and ended up with a 35-21 board advantage for the game.

“We did a good job on the defensive glass and shut them (the Raiders) down from the perimeter,” said Creamer.

“It’s a credit to them (the Crusaders), they did a very good job on the boards and second-chance points can make you look like you’re shooting a lot better than you were,” said Cullen. “When you get second-chance shots (it’s big). That’s what we do to teams a lot but we didn’t do it tonight. The most important thing in rebounding is who thinks rebound first and they were thinking rebound first. We kind of got knocked back on our heels.”

Meanwhile, South Range’s offense went 8:26 in the first half without scoring a point before Anderson broke the drought with a free throw with 1:35 showing before half. But by then, the Crusaders had built a 24-7 lead and led 28-10 at the break.

“Eight minutes without a point,” said Cullen. “Against quality teams you can’t do that. You can have a possession war and maybe a couple possessions but you can’t go eight minutes.”

In the second half, South Range got as close as 11 points (49-38) with 1:48 left, but was forced to foul and Central cashed in at the line, outscoring the Raiders 10-6 in the remaining to to close out the win.

Cullen said South Range had a fine season and the Raiders are 73-11 over the last three campaigns. He was just disappointed to see it end in a tough loss.

“We expended a lot of energy and got better throughout the year and to end like this is really disappointing,” he said. “But we had a good year. We played played a tough schedule with nine teams that had 20 wins.”

CANTON CENTRAL: 16-12-11-20–59

SOUTH RANGE: 6- 4-21-13–44

CANTON CENTRAL CATHOLIC SCORING: Bryce Abbott 0-0-0, Tyler Freudman 1-4-6, Tommy Menches 2-2-6, Dylan Johnson 5-2-12, Justin McAfee 0-0-0, Alec Stalnaker 3-3-9, Joe Roth 0-0-0, Corlin Armour-Smith 2-1-5, Angelo Milini 7-1-18, Austin Nupp 1-0-3. TEAM TOTALS: 21, 13-19: 59.

SOUTH RANGE SCORING: Brandon Mikos 1-0-3, Matt Lucas 0-0-0, Chris Brooks 4-1-9, Dante DiGaetano 4-0-8, Eli Taylor 0-0-0, Nick Matos1-0-3, Jaxon Anderson 2-2-7, Sam Brooks 0-0-0, Ben Irons 6-0-14, Chris Brown 0-0-0. TEAM TOTALS: 18, 3-8: 44.

Three-point goals: South Range 5 (Ben Irons 2, Jaxon Anderson 1, Nick Matos 1, Brandon Mikos 1). Canton Central Catholic 4 (Angelo Milini 3, Austin Nupp 1).