Canton Central Catholic vs. Lake Catholic boys basketball: Cougars stonewalled in fourth, fall to Crusaders 56-38

Mar. 8—NILES — Lake Catholic withstood the first Canton Central Catholic run in a Division III district final on March 8.

But the Cougars had no answer for the next two Crusader runs. They took advantage of Lake Catholic's struggles from beyond the arc in the fourth quarter and won, 56-38.

Canton Central Catholic advanced to a regional semifinal and next plays Cardinal Mooney on March 13.

The Crusaders took an early lead with a 9-0 run to open the contest. Coach Matt Vespa didn't call a timeout to try and neutralize the run.

It was familiar territory for the Cougars, as they have come back from double-digit deficits multiple times this postseason. The players were again up for the challenge, and cut the deficit to 13-7 at the end of the first.

"We kept repeating the phrase we've been here before, we've been in these situations," Vespa said. "I don't know if there's a game we haven't been in, we've been down by double digits in a lot of games this year and been able to come back. It wasn't anything new for us. That's a really good team. If they continue to make shots, they're hard to beat."

The teams traded shots back and forth the remainder of the half and early in the third.

Lake Catholic took its first lead in the contest with a Cross Nimmo 3-pointer with 4:20 left in the third. But after that shot, it was all Crusaders.

They went on another 9-0 run to push the lead back in their favor. Canton Central Catholic's charge was led by Gavin Layman with 22 points with four 3-pointers and Lance Vlacovsky with 16 points.

The Crusaders continued with a 20-6 fourth-quarter run. Lake Catholic was 0 of 6 from beyond the arc in that frame and Vespa knew whichever team got hot late was going to take the district title.

"You look at the score, people might think it was a different story," Vespa said. "They fly around and are a challenge. I hate to sound like a broken record but they made the open shots and we weren't able to convert. We talked coming in that it was two fairly even matched teams with some size and guards that can play. They just controlled the game down the stretch offensively."

Lake Catholic was led by Nimmo with 13 points.

While the Cougars postseason run came to an end as the No. 28 seed, Vespa knows it will serve as a motivator next season.

Lake Catholic was a regional semifinalist a season ago but this year were a young team that experienced all the speed bumps that came with it. With two seniors, Vespa knew the schedule was going to be challenging.

"That's the fourth really tough game these guys have had," Vespa said. "We were the lowest remaining seed in D-III and the guys are disappointed in the loss. They expected to be playing next week. I'm proud of the effort in the young group. I came here to get the guys to moments like this. We don't make excuses. We lost a lot of experience and a late start but this group kept their head down and went to work. Credit to them and dealing with the tough schedule. Finishing this way hopefully adds to the hunger for next season."