By VINCE PELUSO — email@example.com
ASHTABULA TOWNSHIP —
Basketball coaches always preach the importance of starting and finishing quarters and games.
For many, it becomes cliché.
Cliché or not, the Edgewood Warriors proved on Friday night why it’s true as they controlled the first period and dominated the fourth en route to a 52-43 home triumph over the rival Conneaut Spartans.
Conneaut (1-7) held a 35-33 lead at the end of three quarters, but the Warriors started the final frame with a 10-0 run led by two triples from Edgewood point guard Connor McLaughlin (19 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals).
“The offense started going and they started sagging back and I was able to hit some shots,” the Edgewood junior said. “My teammates were looking for me and making good passes.”
McLaughlin and Wisnyai (15 points, 4 steals) combined to score 24 of the Warriors 33 second-half points.
Much of that was thanks in part to McLaughlin’s ability to take control of the Edgewood offense by distributing, as well as hitting clutch jumpers.
“I think he’s grown up a lot in the last month,” Edgewood coach John Bowler said. “I think he’s becoming our quarterback, becoming our guy who wants the ball coming down the stretch. You gotta have a guy who wants that. I think Connor’s kind of filling that role for us right now.”
The Warriors (8-3) were in desperate need of offense thanks to second and third quarters that were largely dominated by the Spartans.
With Edgewood leading 28-24 with just less than three minutes remaining in the third, Conneaut hit 3-pointers on three-consecutive possessions to turn the four-point deficit into a five-point lead.
Christian Williams buried two of those treys. Williams was the lone offensive weapon for the Spartans most of the night as he scored a game-high 22 points (making up 51.2 percent of Conneaut’s offense on the night).
The Spartans stretched their lead out to as much as seven points, but McLaughlin nailed a 3 with 35 seconds remaining in the third then Andrew Konczal (6 points, 7 rebounds) made a layup to give Edgewood the momentum.
“I know our guys think they should’ve won this game,” a disappointed Conneaut coach Tim Tallbacka said. “I think they’re going to look at this game and think we let one get away.
“I think Coach Bowler did a nice job and their kids played very well, but I think our kids have a sour taste in their mouth after this one.”
Missed Spartan free throws in the final two minutes followed by back-to-back Wisnyai buckets pushed the lead to 10, ending any comeback hopes.
“We felt that from about the 5:30 mark in, we lost our offensive identity,” Tallbacka said. “We had run some real good sets in that third quarter. We did not repeat that in the fourth quarter.
“We can’t get away with that kind of stuff. I thought we did a lot of good things defensively, but McLaughlin hit a couple shots in the fourth quarter and we weren’t able to answer.”
McLaughlin said while the Warriors didn’t play their best game on Friday, it should help show them they can win despite that going forward.
“It gets us a little bit of confidence that we can play like that and still win,” he said. “But, we know that we gotta play better and have a better game because that wasn’t our best game and we know it.”
For Bowler, the night was about beating a rival.
“It’s all about the rivalry game, it really is,” he said. “They’re a better team than their record. They’re gonna win some games and they’re better than that. Tim Tallbacka does a nice job coaching those guys.
“It’s just a big rivalry game.”