Three chances they had at the end of the game, but three times they fell short.
The Nordonia boys basketball team took it down to the wire Wednesday at Euclid in a Solon Division I sectional semifinal. The ninth-seeded Knights, however, lost 59-58 to the eighth-seeded Panthers.
With the score 59-58 and about a minute left in the game, Nordonia junior shooting guard Evan Wiehe missed a wide-open 3-point shot that went in and out.
"We got the rebound, Euclid stole the ball, then we stole it back with about 30 seconds left," said a frustrated Knights head coach Matt Cash. "We ran our basic offense and Gabe Byrd, a junior guard, had a wide-open 3-pointer that did a 360, went halfway down but popped out."
A Euclid player rebounded the ball and the visitors fouled him, but he missed the front end of a one-and-one.
"We got the rebound, came down the court and called a timeout with 12.2 seconds left," said Cash. "We drew up a nice play and Julius Jones, a junior guard, had a great look at the hoop from the right baseline and put up a 6-footer at the buzzer that hit the rim but missed.
"We got Julius isolated and he was able to drive off a little weave action, but the ball just didn’t drop."
The game was nip-and-tuck for the most part from start to finish. Nordonia led 14-13 after the first quarter, its only lead of the night. After forging back ahead by 10 points early in the second quarter, the Panthers settled for a 32-29 halftime lead.
The Knights tied the score at 38 but trailed 51-44 after three quarters.
Cash was extremely proud of his team’s effort.
"We weren’t supposed to win the game," he said. "Euclid played a tough schedule. They lost to the No. 1 team in the state, Solon, by six points. They beat Mentor twice. And we went into their place and really should’ve won the game.
"We pressed Euclid and forced about 20 turnovers. Euclid usually presses, but they didn’t press us at all. They were worried about our transition and getting back on defense. So we kind of took them out of their game plan, and our kids executed our game plan perfectly."
The manner in which Nordonia’s season came to an end was actually apropos.
After all, the Knights made a habit of losing close games this season. Of their 13 defeats in 23 games, seven were by seven points or less.
"We figured it out that we were 14 points away from winning 16 games and competing for the [Suburban League National] conference title this season," said Cash. "This year was all about changing the culture and changing the attitude of the program, getting it back to where it needs to be and where it was before, and the kids bought into it.
"We had a great group of kids this year. They really came together well and fought every game. The progress the team made over the course of the season was tremendous."
Wiehe led the way for Nordonia with 14 points, including two 3-pointers, and 7 rebounds.
"Evan was big. He had a great first half," the coach said. "He was on fire from the outside, but in the second half Euclid started closing out on him and forcing him off the line, but he still hit some nice runners.
"He’s developed and come a long way from where he started the season."
Senior guard Drew Petros scored 11 points, including a 3-pointer, and senior center Ben Broscheid finished his high school career with a double-double, notching 10 points and 10 rebounds.
"Drew has been great all year," Cash said. "He just fights. He’s a gritty fighter out there and goes after the ball and goes after everything 100 percent.
"In the first quarter he was hot offensively and had some great drives to the hole. Defensively, he played his butt off the entire game. You can’t ask for anything more from him.
"Ben was getting after it defensively, altering shots. He’s 6-foot-9 and was diving on the floor after loose balls. He’s come a long way and has progressed so well throughout the season. He controlled the paint for us this year in most of the games."
Byrd scored 8 points, while senior forward Tye Evans had 7 points, including a 3-pointer.
"Gabe had three nice steals, came down the court on each of them, shielded off the defender with his body and finished," said Cash. "The last two games were his best of the season. He really came out of his shell and just let his athleticism and basketball skills take over.
"Tye missed seven games this season due to an injury. He’s all heart and a great team player for coming back and basically playing on one leg without the ability to jump."
Juniors Robby Levak, a guard/forward, and Jordan Jones, a guard and Julius’ twin brother, both scored 4 points.
Other graduating seniors are guards Spencer Harp and Mitch Ehrman, forward Kyle Craft, and center Alec Broscheid, Ben’s twin brother.
With six juniors returning, Cash can’t wait for next season to start.
"Those juniors are going to set the tone," he said. "They’re great kids, they work hard and they’re going to be in the weight room and gym in the offseason.
"And, hopefully, we’ll have a couple JV players step up, take the challenge and show up for us.
"Even though we’re losing our height, I expect a lot of big things next year."
Reporter Michael Leonard can be reached at 330-541-9442, firstname.lastname@example.org or @MLeonard_RPC