Woodridge boys basketball upsets Keystone to reach districts

Roger Gordon
Correspondent
Woodridge forward Esseck Bryant puts up a shot during the Bulldogs' 62-56 win at LaGrange Keystone Feb. 26 in a Division II sectional final game.

In Ric Blevins’ lengthy tenure as head coach of the Woodridge boys basketball team, the Bulldogs had appeared in the district semifinals twice.

This week will make it three times.

By way of a 62-56 upset at sixth-seeded Lagrange Keystone Feb. 26 in a Division II Northeast 3 sectional final, the 15th-seeded Bulldogs advanced to the district semifinals.

In the win over Keystone, Woodridge came out of the gate with great energy and had a 12-5 lead after one quarter.

“We got that lead up to 12 or 13 points at one time in the second quarter, but Keystone made a run at the end of the quarter to cut it to six at halftime,” Blevins said. “We came out in the second half and really didn’t miss a beat after halftime. We played by far our best defensive basketball game we’ve played all season for four quarters.

“We stretched the lead back out to 11 or 12 at the end of the third quarter. Keystone made a little run at us right at the very end, but we rebounded well enough and made enough free throws to keep them at bay.”

The visitors received great contributions from several players.

“Will Duve, a junior, hit a couple of big three-pointers for us. We shot 12-of-18 from three-point range for the game,” said Blevins. “Ben Kiser, our junior point guard, came off the bench and scored 14 big points for us.

“Josh Decker, our senior shooting guard, and James Werts, our senior small forward, worked really hard on the defensive end of the floor, and we were able to score baskets when they were taken. We didn’t force anything, and we stayed within what we were trying to do offensively.

Three nights earlier, on Feb. 23, Woodridge opened tournament play with a 51-47 triumph at home over 24th-seeded Gates Mills Hawken in a sectional semifinal.

The Bulldogs broke open a close game in the middle of the third quarter and were up by 10 or 12 points.

“Hawken cut it back to a two-possession game, but then we were able to stretch it back out to nine,” Blevins said. “Hawken hit two threes in the last 20 seconds of the game, so the final score wasn’t truly indicative of how the fourth quarter went. We weren’t in a lot of danger in that fourth quarter.

“Defensively, it was one of our better efforts. I thought we rebounded the ball well and thought we were aggressive. We shot the ball pretty well for three quarters, but in the fourth quarter we didn’t score it very well. It’s tournament time, though, so you’re not dwelling on things you can’t do at this point. You’re trying to win and advance, and we were able to do that.”

Decker played a good all-around game and was his team’s leading scorer. Others contributed as well.

“Josh rebounded the ball pretty well, scored when he could, did not force things,” said the coach. “He was just the player we need right now.

“Ben hit a couple big shots in the fourth quarter when we were struggling to score the basketball. He did a nice job. I thought Will and freshman Evan Duve, his brother, both played good basketball games.”

Woodridge was set to play at Medina Buckeye Thursday in the district semifinal.

If Woodridge defeats Buckeye, next up would be the winner of top-seeded Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary and 18th-seeded Rocky River in the district championship game March 6 at 4 p.m.

“We’re playing pretty well right now,” Blevins said, “so hopefully we’re peaking at the right time.