Big fourth quarter lifts Dragons past Conneaut in Region 6 opener
Warren knows that protecting its home court in Region 6 play is vital.
And while they might have taken an interesting route to get there, they did just that on Friday, beating Conneaut 70-55 at Joseph A. Massa Gymnasium.
It was a game that saw the Dragons lead by 16 in the first half, only to watch Conneaut come back and take a 7-point lead in the third quarter, which was followed by a game-clinching 32-6 run by Warren.
“We used halftime to regroup,” said Warren coach Jeff Berdine. “I told the kids after the game I was proud of them. Once again, when you have a team down like that and you let them back in the game, a lot of times it’s tough to get the momentum back.”
The key play came early in the fourth quarter, with Jake Kupchella getting a steal and making a layup while getting fouled. Kupchella made the free throw and was seemingly getting under the skin of Conneaut’s Spencer Reiser, who jawed at him for some time after the play was over. It also gave Warren a 51-49 lead that it wouldn’t relinquish.
“Huge momentum-changer,” Berdine said. “We’ve really tried to work with this group on being more aggressive against kids with the ball – trying to jump screens and switch and get out and play for steals. This group finishes well and is very athletic.”
It was all Dragons (3-3 overall, 1-0 Region 6) from there on out, as Conneaut didn’t score a point in the fourth quarter until there was 20 seconds left.
The combination of Griffin Suppa, Aidan Morrison, Devin McMeans and Andrew Davidson went 12-of-13 from the line in the final eight minutes, including 6-of-6 by Suppa, who scored eight of his 12 points in the fourth.
“The fourth quarter was really where we took control,” Berdine said. “I thought we did a good job from the free throw line in the fourth – 12-of-13. Griffin did a good job in the fourth quarter of getting other guys shots.”
Suppa played another excellent game at point guard, dishing out seven assists and also pulling down five boards.
The late-game run didn’t look like it was going to be necessary early in the game.
The Dragons came out red-hot, knocking down six 3’s in the first quarter, including three from Kupchella.
A 3 by Colby Johnson and six consecutive points from Caleb Ei gave the Dragons their biggest lead of the game at 33-17.
“When you’re making everything, there’s not a bad shot, that’s what every high school kid thinks,” Berdine said. “And once you stop making everything – and that’s what we did – I don’t think we took bad shots, we just took quick shots. We just needed to relax a little bit and get better possessions and I thought we did that in the second half.”
Conneaut (1-5, 0-1) scored the final 13 points of the half, as the Dragons went the final six minutes without scoring.
Kyle Sheets scored eight of his 13 points during the run, while Kristian Zarembinski, who finished with a team-high 17 points, also connected on a big 3.
“We knew 10 (Zarembinski) was a good player from last year and the Sheets kid is a good player,” noted Berdine. “This was a big one for us to get because we needed to get off on the right foot in region play, especially at home.”
Ei, who scored eight of his game-high 19 points in the third quarter, kept Warren within striking distance before the big run. He along with Morrison had eight and seven rebounds respectively. While not possessing typical height for forwards, they are a matchup problem themselves with unique athleticism and toughness for the position.
“I thought Aidan and Caleb really did a good job inside, even though they had some bigger kids,” Berdine said. “Caleb really took control in the third quarter when we needed his inside presence.”
Warren returns to action on Thursday at 6 p.m. when they take on Rocky Grove in the Oil City Blue & White Holiday Tournament, with Oil City and Vision Quest meeting in the other game.
In the JV contest, the Dragons got 14 points from Avery Vazquez in a 71-32 win.
The JV team will be at the Elk County Catholic Holiday Tournament on Wednesday and Thursday.
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Kersnick 2-0-0-5, Niemann 4-0-1-8, Sheets 6-1-1-13, Zarembinski 7-0-0-17, Askey 4-0-0-9, Reister 0-0-0-0, Broad 1-0-0-3, Totals 24-1-4-55
Kupchella 5-1-1-14, Johnson 3-1-3-10, Morrison 2-1-2-6, Ei 8-3-6-19, Suppa 2-8-9-12, Davidson 2-2-2-7, McMeans 0-2-2-2, Davis 0-0-0-0, Totals 22-18-25-70
Conneaut 15 15 19 6 – 55
Three-point FGs: Conneaut (6) – Zarembinski 3, Askey, Broad, Kersnick; Warren (8) – Kupchella 3, Johnson 3, Morrison, Davidson
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JV: Warren 71, Conneaut 32
WARREN: Funari 3-1-2-8, Arnold 4-3-4-11, Gustafson 4-0-0-11, Swanson 3-0-0-6, Rafalski 3-0-0-6, Vazuez 5-1-1-14, Bablak 1-0-0-2, Hussey 2-0-0-4, McMeans 4-1-2-9