If ever a team followed the old sports adage "Peaking at the right time," it was Nordonia boys basketball.
Knights coach Mike Griffen noted he felt the Knights probably needed to endure some tough times early in the year.
"We had some things that we needed to change in terms of team culture," Griffen said. "When we were 1-12 in the middle of season, it would have been easy for this team to quit."
Nordonia didn't quit. In fact, it went just the opposite way, as the Knights won seven of their last 10 games, including their first playoff contest.
On March 1 at the Coach Tom Jones Court at Cuyahoga Falls for a Division I sectional playoff game, Nordonia took a 9-1 lead to start the game, lost the lead in the fourth quarter, but ended up winning 58-56.
On March 4, Nordonia played well again at second-seed Medina, but well 64-53.
Nordonia finished the season at 8-16.
Against the Black Tigers, Griffen was happy with his team's resolve, but not happy with blowing a double-digit lead.
"We sometimes mentally check out of games and that's what happened in the third quarter," Griffen said. "When we face adversity, we sometimes fall apart. I was glad we were able to pull it out."
Nordonia looked like it might run away with game the early, as center Ryan Smith keyed a 9-1 Knights' run to start the contest.
Falls steadied the ship a bit, but the Knights still led 15-8 after one quarter.
Three-point shooting was a key for the Knights, as Nordonia hit eight 3-pointers on the night, compared to just one for Falls.
"In the first half, they were 6-of-7 from three-point land," said Falls coach Kenny Johnson said. "We spent a lot of energy on trying to get back in the game."
Mike Piotrowski hit three 3-pointers in the second quarter alone, as the Knights led by as much as 27-14 with three minutes left in the half.
Falls was able to cut the lead a bit, as Tofil beat the buzzer with a layup, cutting the lead to 29-20 at the half.
Nordonia still led 40-30 midway through the third quarter, but the Knights started to lose their composure.
Gainer keyed a 7-0 run for the Black Tigers, cutting the lead to three. Gainer scored 20 of his game-high 22 points after halftime.
Falls trailed 45-40 after three quarters, but seemed to have the momentum.
With just under five minutes, Gainer drew a foul and Nordonia forward Luke Alders was called for a technical foul. Gainer hit all four free throws to make it 51-48 Nordonia.
Ja'Quan Campbell then hit a layup and two free throws to give Falls its first lead at 52-51.
Smith then split a pair of free throws to make it 52-52 with 3:19 left in the game.
Gainer then hit a backdoor cut for a layup, but Nordonia forward Tye Evans was the hero down the stretch.
Evan said Nordonia was "freaking out" in the fourth quarter.
"I think we were worried about losing that lead," Evans said. "I just had to keep playing."
"He's really developed as a basketball player," Griffen said of Evans. "Obviously, he's a great athlete. He developed into a scorer for us."
Evans went 6-of-6 from the line in the fourth quarter and hit a layup to make it 56-54 Knights.
A putback layup from Tofil tied it at 56-56 with a minute to go. Tofil had 18 points and nine rebounds on the night.
On Nordonia's next possession, Evans was fouled while shooting. He hit both free throws to make it 58-56 with 28 seconds left.
Falls called three time-outs in the last 28 seconds, the last of which came with 3.5 seconds left as Smith deflected the ball out of bounds.
Gainer got the ball on the inbounds, but with Evans in his face, his 3-point attempt banged off the rim as time expired.
"That's just the way it happened," Evans said. "Coach said we had to switch everything when they set screens for their 3-pointers and I just switched on to him."
Evans finished with 20 points on the night, while Piotrowski had 14 and Smith had 13 for the Knights.
Against the Bees, Nordonia fell behind 30-19 after one quarter, but cut the lead to 42-36 after three quarters.
The Knights were within striking distance, but Medina outscored Nordonia 22-17 in the final quarter to ice the game.
In his final game as a Knight, Smith led Nordonia with 20 points. Luke Schaefer had 22 points, while Jackson Sartain added 10 for the Bees.
Nordonia will lose Smith, Alders and Piotrowski to graduation this spring.