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Dragons dominate Conneaut to clinch spot in D-10 semis

Warren’s Tom Bablak (10) tries to put up a shot betweent Conneaut’s Cole Askey (32) and Mason Kroniser (33) during the first quarter of their District 10 Class 4A quarterfinal game at the Hagerty Family Events Center, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020. Bablak scored 15 points to help lead the Dragons to a 68-42 win over the Eagles and into the semifinals for the first time since 2011-2012.

ERIE — Warren led Conneaut, 3-2, just over a minute into their District 10 Class 4A quarterfinal game at the Hagerty Family Events Center Thursday.

That was as close as the Eagles would get the rest of the way as the Dragons steamrolled their way into the semifinals with a 68-42 victory. It will be Warren’s first district semifinal appearance since the 2011-2012 season. The Dragons lost to General McLane in the D-10 finals that season.

“We were well-rested and had a lot of energy,” Warren coach Jeff Berdine. “We had some good looks early.”

After Conneaut’s (9-15) first basket made it 3-2, Warren (15-8) went on a 14-2 run to open a 17-4 lead with just over two minutes to play in the opening quarter. Cole Askey connected on a 3-pointer with 49 seconds left to cut the deficit to 10, but Ben Berdine’s layup with 13 seconds remaining gave the Dragons a 19-7 lead after the first quarter.

“We made them work in their half-court

offense,” Jeff Berdine said.

Warren’s Ryan Arnold (1) goes in for a layup during the third quarter of a District 10 Class 4A quarterfinal game against Conneaut.

“We pushed in transition,” Warren senior Tom Bablak said. “We were able to get some easy buckets.”

Conneaut got the opening field goal of the second quarter, but Warren again responded with a 14-2 run. The Eagles got consecutive baskets late, but Ryan Rafalski’s three with just under two minutes left in the half gave the Dragons a 36-15 halftime advantage.

The scoring was a little more even in the second half, but the Dragons still outscored the Eagles in both of the third and fourth quarters.

“This was huge to get a big playoff win,” Bablak said. “We played as a team tonight.”

Bablak led the Dragons with 15 points and eight rebounds. Ben Berdine had 14 points and three steals. Mitch Grosch had seven points, five rebounds and three steals. Payton Barnes added five points and four assists, and Ryan Arnold and Drew Swanson added seven points apiece.

Warren’s Ben Berdine (5) puts up a shot over Conneauts’ Cole Askey (32) during the first quarter of their District 10 Class 4A quarterfinal game at the Hagerty Family Events Center, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020. Berdine had 14 points and the Dragons topped the Eagles, 68-42, to advance to the semifinals and a game against Hickory next Tuesday at a time and location to be determined.

Tanner Niemann had a game-high 16 points for the Eagles. Mason Kroniser added 10 in the loss.

The margin of victory allowed coach Berdine to play nearly his entire bench. The additional rest for the Warren regulars could be crucial. The Dragons have assured themselves at least two more games, though they will surely be tested in their next outing.

The 26-point margin of victory is the second-largest playoff win of Berdine’s 18-year coaching tenure and the biggest margin in the District 10 playoffs. The Dragons beat St. Marys 84-56 in a PIAA play-in game in the 2006-07 season, a year they advanced to the second round of the state playoffs.

Warren will take on Hickory in the semifinals Tuesday at a time and location to be determined. The Hornets, 70-53 winners over Titusville in the quarterfinals, are ranked No. 3 in Class 4A in Pennsylvania by the Sunbury Daily Item and are the odds-on favorite to win the D-10 title.

“We know what’s in front of us,” Berdine said. “We think we can play with anybody. We’ve played the bigger schools. This team is used to showing up and playing.”

Warren’s Mitch Grosch (12) goes in for a shot between a pair of Conneaut defenders during the third quarter of their District 10 Class 4A quarterfinal game at the Hagerty Family Events Center, Thrusday, Feb. 20, 2020. The Dragons advanced to the semifinals with a 68-42 victory

Warren's Payton Barnes (30) puts up a shot over Conneaut's Eli Boyce (10) and Zachary Walker (34) during the third quarter of their District 10 Class 4A quarterfinal game at the Hagerty Family Events Center, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020. The Dragons topped the Eagles, 68-42, and advanced to a semifinal round matchup with Hickory Tuesday at a time and location to be determined.

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