YSU’s receivers catching on in practice



The Youngstown State football team returned to practice Monday afternoon after a week off for Spring Break and head coach Bo Pelini was not too pleased with what he saw.

“I thought it was sloppy,” he said. “I didn’t think it was to our standards. Sometimes you’re going to deal with that coming off of spring break, but we have a long way to go and we have to keep making strides.”

But Pelini said he was satisfied with one group in particular.

“Wide receivers actually played really well,” he said. “I think we’re throwing and catching the ball pretty well. It shows we have some experience and guys have some good talent there. I think there’s good competition at that position.”

But YSU receivers coach Brian Crist thought spring break took its toll on his guys.

“It looked like they had a really good time in Mexico. It wasn’t great. It’s wasn’t good,” Crist said. “We put in a bunch of new stuff. They handled it pretty well, but we had too many drops, which is not what we’ve been doing. We shouldn’t drop any with the experience that we have.”

YSU’s returning experience could make cracking the rotation difficult.

“Every guy is getting evaluated personally and guys that are playing sloppy and aren’t able to execute are just showing me they aren’t able to play,” Pelini said.

That includes the receiver positions, where the Penguins are working out 16 players, including 10 with experience.

“Competition is always good, whether it’s against somebody else or against your own teammate,” Crist said. “That part of it is good for us and our group. The experience is great as long as you use it to your advantage,.”

Hubbard High School graduate Isiah Scott is one receiver trying to do more than just earn his spot.

“There’s definitely a lot of competition, but at the same time, we’re trying to lead each other and make each other better,” said the junior.

Scott says the only way to do that is to be on the same page and play as a team and not for themselves.

Senior Alvin Bailey feels the same way.

“We have to be right on all cylinders. We can’t be sloppy in any area, especially if we want to get back to Frisco [Texas, for the FCS national championship],” he said.

While experience will most likely help the Penguins this year, it’s also already helping out the coaches.

“I can focus on coaching the little things because we already know what to do,” Crist said. “We can start to make them better players and more effective players by doing the little thing.”

The Penguins also return experience with Ricky Davis, but now he’s on the receiving end of the ball.

“It was his idea. So, we told him we’d give him a shot out there,” Crist said. “Maybe he can help us, give us a few things here and there.”

The coaching staff doesn’t know if Davis will stay at wide receiver, but Pelini is already liking what he’s seeing from the former quarterback.

“I think he’s done well,” Pelini said. “He’s picked it up pretty quick. He’s probably further along as a wideout than I would have envisioned him going into the spring. I think he has a chance to be a good player for us.”

Despite a good amount of players returning, Pelini knows last season’s FCS championship appearance has come and gone.

“We need to go back to square one,” he said. “What we did last year doesn’t mean anything. These guys have to understand that.

“It’s trying to develop a new team, a new chemistry. Different guys have to step up and it’s going to be a good challenge for us.”

Jackson-Milton’s season ends in deluge of turnovers



An abundance of turnovers prevented the Jackson-Milton High School girls basketball team’s first trip to Columbus.

The Bluejays turned the ball over 31 times in Saturday’s 63-20 loss to top-ranked Berlin Hiland in the Division IV regional final at Massillon Perry High School.

“We couldn’t do anything right,” Jackson-Milton coach Pat Keney said. “We were struggling, they turned the ball over, couldn’t execute on offense, but that’s the way it is.”

Jackson Milton was without senior point guard Kaitlyn Totanti, who was sidelined after being diagnosed with mononucleosis.

“She played Thursday night and struggled,” Keney said. “She went to the hospital after the game and we didn’t get the test results until today.”

While it was tough for the senior to watch from the bench, it was even tougher for her twin sister, Ashley, to play without her.

“I was tearing up before the game,” Ashley Totani said. “I’ve gone through all of these years with her and we share that passion for basketball with each other. It was hard without her.”

Totani scored four points for the Bluejays while Michaelina Terranova led with five.

Berlin Hiland had three players reach double figures.

“Berlin Hiland’s a great team,” Totani said. “Their defense is really up tight and in your face. It’s hard to beat a team that’s well-rounded.”

The number-one ranked team in the state led 36-9 at the half.

“I told them we had to go out and play hard and just don’t quit,” Keney said. “We had not quit on anything all year, so we went out there and tried to play better and harder.”

The Hawks out-scored the Bluejays 17-5 in the third quarter.

“All of the teams we faced up to this point, we dominated everybody on defense, but it just wasn’t our night,” Keney said.

The Hawks dominated on the defensive end, making the Bluejays passive on offense and hesitant to drive to the hole.

“They hadn’t been intimidated all year,” Keney said of his 25-4 team. “They took it to the hole all year.

“{The Hawks] played defense and such great help defense that every time we drove it was closed up. You could see it in our kids’ faces that they were frustrated,” Keney said.

Despite the tough loss, Keney appreciates how far his team has progressed to get to a regional final.

“We got a good learning experience in playing one of the better teams in the state,” Keney said. “We have to learn from it and hope to make it back here next year and maybe we can step it up a little more.”

Jackson-Milton loses three seniors, but returns a roster of young players, including a junior varsity team that went undefeated this season.

“I cannot ask for a better team,” Totani said. “They gave us so many good memories for the past four years. We worked really hard and it’s not the outcome we wished, but we got farther than we ever had.”

LaBrae’s strong season ends with only loss



For the first time this season, the LaBrae High School boys basketball team felt what it was like to lose.

The Vikings’ only defeat came in Friday’s 58-56 loss to Garrettsville in the Division III district final at Warren Harding.

“It’s just an enormous amount of pressure and these guys did a great job,” LaBrae coach Chad Kiser said. “I told them it’s just darn near impossible to go 24 games and not lose one.”

LaBrae trailed 56-51 with less than two minutes remaining in a wild finish.

Tariq Drake picked up up a steal, made a layup and drew a foul. He hit the extra point to pull the Vikings within two with 1:34 on the clock.

The G-Men hit a foul shot to extend their lead 57-54. It was LaBrae’s ball with 22.6 seconds left.

Tyler Stephens had an open look from the corner, but his shot didn’t fall and the G-Men got the rebound. But a nice hustle play from Michael Eakins put the ball back in the Vikings’ hands.

It was short-lived as the ball bounced off Logan Kiser and into the hands of a Garrettsville player.

LaBrae was forced to foul, and Ryan Brown couldn’t convert at the line. In frustration, he fouled Drake with 17.2 seconds remaining.

Drake, who led the team with 19 points, missed the first of the one-and-one, forcing LaBrae to foul again. After Dalton Fall’s foul shot bounced off the rim, both teams dove for the loose ball. A jumpball was called and the possession arrow was in favor of the Vikings.

With 3.8 seconds remaining, Eakins drove to the hoop and picked up two points and LaBrae trailed 57-56.

The G-men knocked down one of two foul shots and the Vikings received one more chance with 3.6 seconds on the clock.

Kiser called a timeout to draw up options.

“We ran the last play with an option to shoot the three or pass to the side,” Kiser said. “They kind of backed off and I thought Logan [Kiser] got a nice job of pushing up and getting a decent look.”

Logan Kiser pulled up from the 3-point line just before the buzzer.

“I pictured it going in as it left his hand,” Chad Kiser said. “It looked good.”

The ball hit the backboard and bounced off the rim.

“Your heart stops there for a minute and then it kind of still stops, I guess, or breaks I would say because I feel for the kids,” Chad Kiser said.

Garrettsville advances to the regional tournament for the first time in school history.

“Anything worthwhile isn’t supposed to be easy and our guys dug in when it mattered most,” Garrettsville coach Andy Olesky said.

Playing the number-one team in the state, the G-men weren’t as nervous and you might expect.

“Our message was to relax, there’s no pressure on us,” Olesky said. “We got a team that’s on a 24-game win streak that’s expected to win and do some things.

“We had no pressure and I think they really bought into that message,” Olesky said.

The feeling of defeat is pretty new to the Vikings.

“There’s only one team that makes it to the very end,” Kiser said. “There’s going to be everyone else in our division that are going to feel what we feel tonight only at different times.

“I can only ask them to play as hard as they can play and they’ve done that all year long. I was extremely proud of our effort, but it hurts. But they’re resilient young men and they’ll bounce back.”

Veteran Garfield team pulls away from Ursuline late



It was a game of experience versus inexperience.

And the Ursuline girls basketball team’s lack of composure proved to be the difference in a 60-50 loss to Garrettsville Garfield in a Division III regional semifinal Wednesday night at Cuyahoga Falls High School.

“Half my team played on this floor two years ago,” said Garfield head coach Aaron Gilbert. “I think that helped our kids. It’s a big learning experience because it’s a big change in atmosphere.”

Garfield started five seniors, including Grayson Rose, who led the G-Men with 22 points. Lauren Jones added 14.

Ursuline’s starting five was made up of one senior and four sophomores.

“When you have a group of kids who have been here and kind of done that, absolutely, it’s easier,” said Irish head coach Vannessa Dickson.

“This is the first trip for my kids. It’s a lot to take in, but I think they were ready. We’ve been in pressure situations throughout the season. They’ve done well in those situations. The ball just didn’t roll our way and that’s how it goes sometimes.”

The Irish (13-11) led 30-28 at halftime, but the G-Men (23-4) started the third quarter on a 7-0 run and held Ursuline to just seven points in the period. By the end of the third, Garfield led, 44-37.

It also didn’t help that the Irish missed six of seven foul shots in the third quarter.

Ursuline began the fourth quarter with a bucket from Anyah Curd and two fouls shots from Dayshanette Harris to cut Garfield’s lead to 44-41.

The G-men responded with two back-to-back buckets to regain a 48-41 advantage with 6:16 remaining.

Simone Comer made a layup with 3:39 left to make it 53-48, but several Ursuline turnovers allowed Garfield to capitalize extend its lead to 58-48.

Comer — Ursuline’s lone senior — finished with 13 points. The Irish were just 6 of 16 at the foul line.

“I think we got out of sorts a little bit, but I give credit to [Garfield],” Dickson said. “They were absolutely prepared. They played a great game. We didn’t do the little things right. We got away from playing defense, from limiting them to one shot, to sharing the basketball.”

With two minutes remaining, Harris got called with a charge and fouled out.

The sophomore averaged nearly 30 points this season and the G-men knew they had to limit her efforts.

Gilbert said the magic number was 25, meaning he figured to be content with Harris getting that many points.

“She’s just a pure scorer,” he said. “You’re not going to stop her. She’s going to get her points.”

Harris finished with 27 points for Ursuline.

“She’s a great kid,” Dickson said. “She puts her heart and soul into this game every day. She’ll be back.”

Harris was emotional after the game.

“It’s what I’m here to do,” she said, fighting back tears. “We wanted this, but we couldn’t get it. I hope to get my team here next year.”

Dickson understands the feeling.

“I can’t be more proud,” she said. “Right now, I know there’s a lot of tears. It hurts from them. I’ve been there. I know there’s not a lot anyone can say to make them feel better, but I’m proud of them.”

Ursuline figures to return most of this team next season.

“These kids are going to remember how that feels,” Dickson said. “This group of sophomores have come a long way over the course of the year. In the beginning, we had to learn how to play together as a team. When you’re asking a bunch of sophomores to play at the varsity level against a bunch juniors and seniors, it’s tough.

“Hopefully, next year, when we come back we’ll be read.”

Southern stops Valley Christian’s last chance



With six seconds on the clock, Southern head coach Aaron Blatch had to make a decision: stay in a 1-3-1 zone or go man-to-man.

His decision paid off.

The Indians stuck to their zone offense with Jayse Sloan at the top.

The freshman, who wasn’t even going to play basketball this year, made at big stop for Southern.

Valley Christian couldn’t get a shot off against Sloan and time expired, giving the Indians a 52-50 win and a chance to play in the Division IV district final game against the winner of tonight’s McDonald-Sebring semifinal.

“He just made a play. I don’t know what they had drawn up, but if you can’t get past the first guy, it doesn’t really matter. And he really took care of that,” Blatch said.

Southern (6-16) was down 46-42 with 4:35 remaining when Jacob Joiner went to work.

He scored seven of the Indians’ final 10 points.

“We’ve got something that not a lot of teams have,” Blatch said. “He’s a true No. 1 guy. We need him to score. I think he can score with anybody in the area.”

But Joiner thought that was something he still had to prove.

“I found out I got second-team all-county and feel like I should have been first,” the junior said. “So I’ve just been going out there and showing that I should have been first team. I just go out there and play as hard as I can and the best that I can.”

Joiner finished with 28 points.

“I think he’s fearless,” said Valley Christian head coach Dolph Carroll. “He’ll go at you and keep coming at you. He had a great game. I’m not sure we defended him very well, but he did a great job when he had to.”

But Joiner gave Valley Christian the chance to tie the game up.

With 32.8 seconds left, Joiner fouled Elijah Anderson and sent him to the line in a one-and-one.

He missed the first foul shot and it was the Indians ball. But not for long.

Southern threw the ball in with 27.6 seconds on the clock. Valley Christian stepped up its defense and forced a jumpball and the possession arrow was in the Eagles’ favor.

But Valley Christian couldn’t convert and was forced to foul with 7.6 seconds remaining.

“You have to give them a ton of credit,” Carroll said. “They just kept coming at you and never quit. We had some breakdowns and a few free throws we could have made down the stretch. We just had a few opportunities that we missed.”

Southern has been in this situation before. It had trailed at the half in all three postseason matchups.

“This has been an unbelievable feeling,” Blatch said. “All three games have been similar. We haven’t really jumped out to the start that we want. I mean, we were a nervous wreck the first three, four possessions. But we just settled down.”

The Indians trailed 29-22 at the half.

“We didn’t go out there thinking we we’re going to lose,” Joiner said. “We haven’t done that in the playoffs yet and we’ve seen results.”

The Indians will play for a district crown for the first time in nearly 20 years. It will also be the third time Southern has made it to the final in school history. The Indians have never won.

“I hope we’re not going to be complacent. Winning sectionals is nice, but we really wanted the chance to do some damage here,” Blatch said. “I think if we have the type of guys that I think we have, we’re going to go and compete as hard as we can and see what happens against either team.”

Strong second quarter powers Harding past Fitch



A dominant second quarter by the Warren Harding boys basketball team was too much for Austintown Fitch to overcome in Saturday’s 74-49 victory for the Raiders.

Fitch trailed 15-11 at the end of the first quarter of the Division I sectional game.

“We became a little passive offensively,” Fitch head coach Brian Beany. “They started to get up in us a little more, started to make our first initial pass a little more difficult and pull us out away from the basket more than what we liked.”

The Raiders outscored Fitch 21-5 in the second quarter and went into halftime with a 20-point lead.

“I thought the whole first half we guarded as hard as we’ve guarded all year with some good discipline,” Raiders head coach Andy Vlajkovich said. “We got off to a poor offensive rhythm.

“We found our rhythm in the second and turned it up a little bit.”

Harding also turned it up on defense, forcing 11 turnovers, including three five-second violations.

“Defense is a constant,” Vlajkovich said. “Sometimes I fear that our offensive fuels our defense and it has to be the other way around. Or both.

“But it can’t be where you stop guarding just because the offensive end isn’t going well, but I didn’t think we did that,” Vlajkovich said.

Vlajkovich said his team had some issues on the offensive side at the beginning of the year that reflected their defensive energy, but that wasn’t the case Saturday.

“We’re pretty good at the open floor. We’re trying to get there with the pressure, turning people over, rebounding it and running,” he said.

Lynn Bowden led Warren Harding with 29 points, 20 of which came in the second half.

“We just played really hard,” Bowden said. “That’s it. We have a chip on our shoulder and we’re going to keep coming hard.”

Beany said Bowden is “tough to guard out there. He’s the biggest and strongest kid in every game that he probably plays. There’s no doubt he’s hard to guard.”

Mike Hughes scored 22 for the Raiders.

Fitch (5-18) was led by Emanuel Daukins’ 13 points and Randy Smith’s 12.

“We had basically zero experience coming back,” Beany said. “So, these guys battled every single game. Our record doesn’t indicate really how these kids played all year, but they battle.

“They battled these guys. They just have more skill than we do.”

Harding’s next game is a rematch against Akron Ellet. The Raiders beat Akron Ellet last season on a buzzer-beater in overtime.

J-Milton outlasts Dalton in tight duel



The Jackson-Milton girls basketball team went to bed Thursday night thanking their lucky stars after a few scary final minutes in its Division IV regional semifinal against Dalton at Massillon Perry High School.

“I watched three films of them, they’re up in your face and they play good defense like we do,” Bluejays coach Pat Keney said. “It was a matter of who was lucky at the end of the game.”

Jackson-Milton (23-3) was the team who ended up lucky, prevailing 44-40 to advance to Saturday’s regional final against Hiland.

The Blue Jays had a 44-36 lead with less than 2:30 remaining, but gave Dalton plenty of opportunities to turn the tables.

The Bulldogs lowered the deficit to 44-38 on a pull-up jumper from freshman Makenna Geiser.

With a little more than a minute to go, the Bluejays started to break down. Jackson-Milton was called for over-and-back and gave Dalton a chance to cut the deficit.

The Bulldogs couldn’t convert, but did get another chance after the Bluejays were called for traveling.

Again, Jackson-Milton lucked out as Dalton failed to produce a bucket and it was the Bluejays’ ball with 46.2 seconds remaining.

Ashley Totani was fouled and sent to the line for a one-and-one. She missed the first foul shot and Dalton received yet another chance to score with 37 seconds on the clock.

The Bulldogs’ shot bounced off the rim and both teams scrambled for the rebound, resulting in a jump ball.

The possession arrow favored Jackson-Milton with 21.2 seconds.

Just when you thought the Bluejays sealed the deal, they turned the ball over again to give Dalton their fourth chance in less than a minute.

But the Bulldogs again couldn’t capitalize.

Despite almost blowing an eight-point lead, Totani had faith in her team.

“I knew our team has that fight mentality and I knew we were going to get it done,” said the senior.

Her coach, on the other hand, was just a bit nervous.

“I was praying,” Keney said.

The Bulldogs (20-6) took away what Jackson-Milton does best — shooting from behind the arc.

“We’re more balanced,” Keney said. “We have the same four scoring all the time, so when people play us they think they’re going to shut one girl down, but we have four girls that score.

“We’re very fortunate to have that,” Keney said.

Dalton’s zone defense allowed for the Blue Jays to work the ball around and rely on Michaelina Terranova and Abigail Spalding to do work down low.

“I just want to make it special for the seniors this year. I’ve been playing with them for a long time now and I just want to let them out with a win,” Terranova said.

The junior led Jackson-Milton with 14 points and Spalding scored eight.

“It was really important to get them the ball. They definitely stepped up,” Totani said.

Jackson-Milton played in the regional semifinal last season, but fell to Cornerstone Christian.

“Every year we try to push to the next level,” Totani said. “Winning this game meant everything, especially being a senior. Our team has worked so hard for this. I’m so proud of them.”.

Jackson-Milton advances to the regional final for the first time in school history.

“I’ve been coaching for 27 years,” Keney said. “It’s awesome. We’ve been to districts and we just ran up against people that were better than we were. But this is a blast.”

The Bluejays will need to take care of the ball more if they want a shot at beating the No. 1-ranked team in the state.

“They’re tough,” Keney said. “They have a bench. I mean, they have everything. So, we just have to come and play as hard as we can play and see what happens.”

“We’re going to play like we usually do, play all four quarters, fight and see what happens,” Totani said.