CANTON — Approximately four months ago, the Tallmadge football team had a date with a perennial state goliath.
The Blue Devils came out swinging and had a more than respectable showing against that powerhouse in the Division III playoffs.
On Wednesday, the Tallmadge boys basketball squad had to face a perennial giant in Canton.
The opponent was the same both times.
Unfortunately, so was the result.
The fourth-seeded Blue Devils’ season came to an end after losing to multiple-time state champion Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary 81-44 in a Canton Division II district semifinal game. The contest took place at McKinley High School’s Canton Fieldhouse.
That same Irish squad also handed Tallmadge a 28-7 defeat on the gridiron in the second round of the playoffs during the fall.
With the win, the Irish (16-8) advanced to the Canton district title game. The Blue Devils had a winning season for the second year in a row and for the fourth time in head coach Mike Bluey’s five-year tenure. Tallmadge, which lost in sectional play the previous two years, finished 14-10 this winter.
“Winning more than you lose is always going to be the measuring stick,” Bluey said. “Making it here is always one of our goals. It had been two years. The guys and the coaches are going to take some time off and start preparing for next year.”
The Blue Devils, who featured a number of football players, led 11-8 in the first quarter when sophomore guard Brandon Heigelmann drained a 3-pointer from the left corner.
Alas, that was Tallmadge’s last lead of the game.
SVSM took complete control the rest of the way, thanks to its menacing pressure defense.
The Irish got in the Blue Devils’ faces constantly and forced 10 first-half turnovers.
Most of those turnovers led to uncontested fast-break layups on the other end.
As a result, the Irish turned up the jets and went on a 16-0 run. Tallmadge didn’t recover.
“We showed up to play,” Bluey said. “What they bring is what we don’t see. They bring physicality and quickness. You can’t prepare for those things.
“We weren’t intimidated by the environment or the mystique of St. V. They are just pretty dang good.”
What made it especially deflating for Tallmadge was the fact that the Irish shot a sizzling percentage throughout the evening.
SVSM made 33 of 54 shots, including an eye-popping 12 of 18 attempts from 3-point range. The Irish led 43-25 at halftime and didn’t break a sweat the rest of the way.
While the lopsided setback certainly was devastating, Bluey decided to focus on what went right. His team full of multisport athletes had a late slump that eliminated any chance of winning the Suburban League American Conference title.
Nonetheless, the Blue Devils were a formidable challenge in just about every game.
“With the size of our school, we have kids who play a lot of different sports,” Bluey said. “We have some high-level baseball kids and that takes away from their time on the basketball court during the off-season.
“They’re competitors. We have some guys who are going to have some great baseball careers on the next level.”
Junior guard Lunden McDay led the Irish with a game-high 18 points and senior point guard Scott Walter and freshman guard Seth Wilson each had 14 points for the Irish.
Junior guard Chris Painter added 13 points for SVSM, which had 10 players score at least two points.
Senior guards Seth Gergely and Matthew Francesconi each had 10 points to lead Tallmadge. Francesconi, who plans to continue his academic and basketball careers at Marietta College, finished his career as one of the Blue Devils’ all-time leading scorers.
Bluey also said goodbye to seniors Zach Boyd, a forward who finished with five points, and Jake Rensel, a guard who scored four points.
“They’ve come a long way as a group,” Bluey said. “I couldn’t have asked for more coachable kids. They are just a great representation of the student-athlete. I’m proud to coach them.”
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_RPC.