CUYAHOGA FALLS — For what seems like forever, the Cuyahoga Falls boys basketball team has had many close battles with its closest rival on Graham Road.
Those nip-and-tuck affairs have been especially common on the Black Tigers’ home floor.
On Friday, Falls had a fabulous chance to lay down the hammer on its longtime nemesis.
Unfortunately, like many of their dangerously close encounters, it was not to be for the Black Tigers.
Host Falls suffered a heart-breaking 64-63 overtime defeat to longtime rival Stow-Munroe Falls in a Suburban League National Conference showdown Friday at Coach Tom Jones Court.
The Black Tigers, who have had their share of gut-wrenching defeats to the Bulldogs over the years, led by as many as seven with a little more than 90 seconds left.
However, Stow (5-5, 4-3) scored the last seven points and held off a high-adrenaline Falls’ squad that rebounded quite nicely from an early deficit.
"We had a stretch where we cut it from seven to get it to overtime," longtime Bulldogs head coach Dave Close said. "That was critical for us. That’s a positive for us coming out of this game.
"The negative is, why don’t we play with that passion in the second and third quarters? They [the Black Tigers] played with passion the whole time. They were the underdog; they came out with something to prove, chip on their shoulder. I give their team a lot of credit. They came out and they competed."
That didn’t appear to be the case early.
After a 3-pointer by junior point guard Trinny Henderson to start the game, Falls’ didn’t score again until more than a minute elapsed in the second quarter.
The Bulldogs, on the other hand, had a much easier time putting the ball in the basket. They did it quite a few times, as a matter of fact.
Stow scored the next 17 points before the Black Tigers found their stroke. They did so with a vengeance too.
Thanks mainly to the scorching Nick Hyder, Falls scored 24 points in the second quarter to cut its lead to three (30-27).
The junior guard buried four 3-pointers in the period and finished with 14 points.
Hyder’s hot hand didn’t exactly make Close particularly peachy.
"When we started the game, we played pretty solid defense," Close said. "We held them to three for quite some time and we weren’t even flowing on offense.
"We gave them some open looks, lost some open guys. All of a sudden, they’re [the Black Tigers] are making shots. It was just a whole momentum switch. They make a couple shots and now everyone is throwing them in."
Falls (2-7, 1-6) continued its momentum in the third quarter and took its first lead (34-32) of the game when senior center Donovan Mills drained a perimeter shot from the right side.
"We went toe-to-toe with them," Black Tigers’ first-year head coach Todd Taylor said. "We got up. We just couldn’t put it away."
Sadly for Falls, Taylor was right.
When Cale Marconi converted a layup off the dribble in the final 10 seconds, the game was tied at 57. The Black Tigers still had the ball on the final possession, but Henderson’s 3-pointer at the buzzer went in and out. Falls actually had two other shots go in and out in the overtime period.
Unfortunately, those near misses proved costly for the Black Tigers.
Junior guard Jack Costa’s layup made it 63-61 before things got a bit chaotic.
Falls was called for an intentional foul on the final possession that led to some tempers flaring. As a result, Stow was called for a technical foul, which led to a pair of free throws for both teams.
Marconi made one of his two shots and the Black Tigers’ 6-foot-3 junior guard, Kyler Tepus, who returned after missing several games because of an illness, converted both of his foul shots.
Falls was awarded the ball with less than five seconds left, but Henderson’s shot at the buzzer fell short.
Tepus scored all 16 of his points in the second half. Henderson also had 16 points.
"Trinny is really good," Taylor said. "He’s really good with the ball. Nick Hyder can make shots. Kyler just gives you something else.
"If you back off him, he’s going to make you pay. He’s practicing and doing physical stuff. To play the way he did [Friday] … unreal."
Close may not have enjoyed seeing Tepus swish jumpers from everywhere, but he certainly could appreciate seeing his main rival’s top player get back in the swing of things.
"He’s probably their best player," Close said. "I’m happy for him, happy for Falls because they got him back. He’s a pretty good darn player."
Sophomore center Van Shyjka scored a game-high 21 points for the Bulldogs.
Although it was another excruciating defeat for the Black Tigers against their maroon-and-gold nemesis, Taylor was thrilled with his team’s passion.
Falls recently got its first National Conference win in school history when it topped Nordonia 58-53 last Tuesday.
"We knew we could come together if we play for one another," Taylor said. "Not so much just playing for themselves, but playing for your teammates.
"I know it’s a rivalry game, but I’m seeing it more in practice and away from the game itself. They’re playing for one another.
"[Senior] Ethan Tompkins, a 6-foot post player, battled his rear end off down there, rebounding the ball, getting deflections," Taylor said. "It’s nice to see it coming together.
"[Junior guard/forward] Brennan Guerin has been accepting his role. Joey Sondles is doing his thing. They all want to play all the time. If they didn’t, I would be upset. The way they are playing as a team right now … not acting, but playing as a team, is so important."
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_RPC.