Coach Ray Corbett was not surprised with the performance of his Grandview Heights High School boys basketball team in its Division III regional semifinal.
Just as they had done several times this season, the Bobcats clawed their way back from a double-digit deficit. However, the comeback fell short in a 63-58 loss to Oregon Stritch on March 13 at Bowling Green.
Trailing 52-38 with 5 minutes, 45 seconds to play, Grandview cut its deficit to 52-51 with 3:36 remaining.
The Bobcats had erased an 11-point, second-half deficit five days earlier in defeating third-seeded Johnstown 54-49 in a district final at Greater Columbus Convention Center. Grandview was seeded sixth in the district.
"This was one of the more enjoyable groups that we have had," said Corbett, whose team finished 19-7 overall. "They come to practice every day and work hard. They were a lot of fun, and this game epitomized this team.
"It was just like the Johns-town game. It doesn't matter that we fell short here. It's the perfect example of what this group is about. We're down, we gritted back into it, and we didn't make the plays down the stretch. (Against) Johnstown we did. I'm very proud."
Stritch coach Jamie Kachmarik had his players hold the ball for nearly two minutes to start the fourth quarter, so Grandview began to foul and put the Cardinals in the bonus. However, Stritch missed the front end of three one-and-ones, allowing the Bobcats to cut into the lead.
"That backfired," said senior guard Manny Day, who scored 14 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter. "They missed some free throws and we got some long rebounds and worked on our defensive pressure. We were able to get layups and get back in the game."
Kachmarik said the plan was for his team to get to the free-throw line and extend its lead.
"We have three guys shooting at 80 percent or more (from the line), but when they missed those three one-and-ones, it was like losing six points," Kachmarik said. "We were 11 of 12 from the foul line (in a 54-44 double-overtime win over Genoa Area in a district final March 9).
"They were doing a good job of trapping and keeping us from running our offense. Missing those free throws hurt."
After Grandview pulled within one point, Stritch went on an 8-0 run to extend its lead to 60-51 with 31.8 seconds left.
"You have to pick your poison," Corbett said. "They have great ball-handlers who can attack gaps and that was the strength of their team. We knew they could shoot, so do you give up the 3 or do you give up the layup in the gaps? They had four guys on the floor at all times that could attack the gaps."
Day added five assists and three steals for the Bobcats, and junior guard Brian Collier had 15 points. Junior forward Luke Lachey had 14 points and 15 rebounds.
The Bobcats finished third (4-4) in the MSL-Ohio Division behind champion Columbus Academy (6-2).
Grandview had only two seniors in Day and point guard Aaron Cincione. Day averaged 14.9 points and was honorable mention all-district and second-team all-league.
Cincione missed the first 12 games with a back injury and averaged 5.1 points.
"This was a group of seniors who had not had a tremendous amount of success going through the program," Corbett said. "You go back to the seventh and eighth grade (and) they were thin in numbers and thin talent-wise. Aaron and Manny decided to stick with it and did a phenomenal job for us.
"For them to finish their career in a regional is outstanding. They are great kids. They are great leaders. They are great students. They're what you look for in players."
The Bobcats expect to return their top two scorers in Collier and Lachey. Collier was first-team all-district and all-league after averaging 17.3 points and surpassing 1,000 career points earlier in the postseason.
Lachey was second-team all-district and first-team all-league. He missed five games with mononucleosis but averaged 18.0 points.
"We have a great nucleus coming back, and it will be interesting to see what happens in terms of time commitment," Corbett said. "Basketball is a game where you have to put time into it. You have to work on the skills. If we put in the time next year, we could be pretty decent."