ERIE — Erie's Jacob Johnston continued his tremendous run with a 40-point performance and his teammates' domination of the paint kept the red-hot Cardinals' postseason alive.|
The second-seeded Cardinals downed the top-seeded PawPaw Bulldogs 73-65 for the Class 1A Erie Regional Championship on Friday night at Erie High School. The win moves them to the Eastland Sectional on Tuesday where they face Lanark-Eastland.
"The run that (Johnston) is on, he is doing some amazing things," said Erie coach Ryan Winckler, whose club is 19-14. "We have overcome so much adversity this year with injuries and overtime losses, for the guys to come through like this, I can't say enough about them."
PawPaw (22-6) had no answers for Johnston, but also couldn't find any points in the paint, with Erie junior Owen McConnell (nine points, 13 rebounds) and senior Rhett Stover (12 points) shutting down Bulldogs star forward Ryan Lilja (eight points), who put up 28 points in the regional semifinal game.
"We really keyed on Lilja and our help-side defense did a great job all night," said McConnell. "We went as hard as we could."
Erie started the game on fire, hitting 8-of-9 from the field in the first quarter and taking a 17-8 lead.
"We were just excited and we had something to prove," said Erie senior Connor Saad, who tallied five points, eight assists, and six rebounds. "People have been doubting us all year and we had to show them we belong there, too."
PawPaw showed why it was the top-seed in the second quarter, hitching its wagon to senior guard Justin Wiley (25 points, five rebounds) and getting a trio of 3-pointers from guard Johnathan Jenkins (12 points) to take a 36-35 lead.
The Cardinals had their own workhorse take over in the second half, as Johnston put up 14 points in the third frame and put the Cardinals back in the driver's seat with a 54-48 lead heading into the fourth quarter, an advantage they wouldn't relinquish.
"I was disappointed in my first half defense (on Wiley), I just wanted to get back out there and shut him down," said Johnston, who held Wiley to two points in the third frame and continued his eye-popping offense, shooting 13-of-15 from the field and 11-for-12 from the free throw line. "I started getting it figured out the last couple of weeks. I know if I can score I am going to try to score and my teammates have done a great job of getting me those opportunities."
"He played his game" said PawPaw coach Dave Glenn, who felt there was a reason other than Johnston and Erie's paint domination that led to his team's demise. "Officiating. That's what it is. We weren't getting continuation calls."
Erie's 19 fouls were just one less than PawPaw's 20, but the Cardinals did out-rebound the Bulldogs 29-18 and shot 26-of-43 from the field, compared to PawPaw's 22-of-53 shooting performance.
Said Johnston, "We are playing good at the right time. We lost a lot of close games this year and that has made us hungry. This is what we've been working for and we have nothing to lose. Having Zach (Maloney) back has been huge too. Our confidence is back up with him playing."
Maloney, a senior guard, was playing in just his third game of the season after blowing out his knee in football, but continued to make an impact with five assists and more importantly gives the Cardinals another player in their rotation.
"It helps our rotation, we have a little extra boost," said Maloney, who was told by doctors and physical therapists he wouldn't play this year. "(Assistant) Coach Brown never doubted me, everyone else did. Helping the team win the regional is all I can ask for. Another game, another day."
PawPaw cut the Cardinals lead to a basket once in the fourth quarter, but Johnston responded with a drive and a pair of free throws to put Erie back up 66-60 with three minutes to go and put the Bulldogs in the position where they had to foul.
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