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Ready to run

Dragons begin their postseason run with quarterfinal game against Conneaut

Times Observer photo by Andy Close Warren senior guard Avery Vazquez brings the ball up the floor during a scrimmage with Youngsville at Youngsville High School, Monday, Feb. 17, 2020. After a first round bye, Vazquez and the Dragons travel to the Hagerty Family Events Center Thursday for a District 10 Class 4A Quarterfinal game against Conneaut.

After over a week between games, the Warren Dragons get their postseason started tonight when they travel to the Hagerty Family Events Center (Prep-Villa Center) to take on Conneaut in the District 10 Class 4A quarterfinals at 6 p.m.

The Dragons (14-8) received a first-round bye by virtue of their second-place finish in Region 6. Conneaut (9-14) was a 54-50 winner over Oil City in their first-round game, a score that surprised a few people around District 10.

That being said, this is a Warren team that is anxious and ready to play.

“I think we match up well with them,” said Warren coach Jeff Berdine. “It will be a good opportunity for us. Size-wise, some of the things we do are going to translate well against them. We’re going to have an opportunity to get out and do the things we like to do.”

Warren came into this season having to replace all five starters from a season ago, a first, Berdine said, in his 18 years as head coach.

They have meshed very well throughout the season, and have continued to get better.

It starts up front with forwards Ben Berdine, a junior, and Thomas Bablak, a senior.The Dragons’ two-leading scorers at 15.1 ppg. and 11.1 ppg., respectively, can do a little bit of everything, whether that’s taking advantage of their size inside or stepping out and knocking down 3’s.

Payton Barnes checks in at 10.5 ppg. and can do a little bit of everything. Perhaps the Dragons’ top 3-point shooter, Barnes is also a willing passer and above-average defender with good size.

The Dragons have rotated four senior guards as part of their regular rotation. Mitchell Grosch has been the top scorer of the bunch, but both he, Ryan Arnold, Tyler Gustafson and Ryan Rafalski have all stepped up and had big moments during the regular season.

Fellow senior Drew Swanson has made great strides this season and gives the Dragons more size down low, as well as an adept shooting touch.

They were part of a team that competed in the ultra-competitive Region 6 this season. Harbor Creek won the region with a 9-3 record, while Warren, Titusville and Corry were 7-5 and General McLane 6-6. They all took turns beating up on each other over the course of the last two months. In short, every game was a big game.

“With our region, I said before, I felt everybody would have three or four losses,” coach Berdine said. “That’s how competitive I felt our region was going to be.”

He was right.

And the Dragons will draw the only team remaining of the eight with a losing record.

That’d not to say the Eagles aren’t a threat, however.

They are led by the 1-2 punch of senior guard Tanner Niemann (18.2 ppg.) and senior forward Cole Askey (16.9 ppg.)

Those two combine for 60 percent of Conneaut’s offensive output on the season, while junior guard Mason Kroniser checks in at 8.0 ppg.

With the long layoff , the Dragons have tried to stay consistent with game-like action, including a scrimmage with Youngsville on Monday.

“We try to stay on course with what we do during the season, which is playing every third day,” Berdine said. “It’s not easy to replicate game speed, so we were definitely interested (in scrimmaging).”

It’s all part of a process that has helped prepare them for, what they hope is a deep run. The top three teams out of Class 4A qualify for the state tournament.

“This game is so huge for us,” noted Berdine. “If we get this one, it guarantees two more games. That’s where you can really string them together. It extends your season. Gives the younger kids more work and it’s a reward for the seniors for all the time they’ve put in.”

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Quarterfinal matchups in Class 4A

Thursday

(Top half of bracket)

Hickory (18-4) vs. Titusville (16-7)

Warren (14-8) vs. Conneaut (9-14)

(Bottom half of bracket)

Harbor Creek (15-7) vs. General McLane (16-7)

Grove City (14-8) vs. Corry (16-7)

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