ALLIANCEThe two-man wrecking crew of Dom Iero and Harrison Blackledge taught the Kent Roosevelt Rough Riders a difficult lesson Saturday night.
The senior standouts combined for 53 points in leading the third-seeded North Canton Hoover Vikings to a 91-67 victory in an Alliance Division I sectional game.
Each player dominated offensively in one half, with Blackledge taking the lead in the first half as the Rough Riders (6-17) clamped down on Iero on the perimeter and Iero finding his stroke in the second half as Roosevelt squeezed the 6-foot-5 Blackledge on the interior. Iero finished with 22 points, including six 3-pointers, and Blackledge led all scorers with 31.
"We worked really hard in practice at making those two really work for everything they got. We did a good job on Iero in the first half and Blackledge in the second, but unfortunately the other had monster halves," Roosevelt coach Ben Dunlap said. "Hoover did a great job of passing to the open man and other guys knocked down shots when open. They are a quality team and that is why."
Iero's clutch shooting helped the Vikings (20-4) pull away from an eight-point halftime game, much closer than many expected in a game between a team seeded third in its district and one with the dreaded No. 12 seed and a 6-16 regular-season record. Dunlap explained that the coaching staff adjusted their post defense at the half, but those alterations were offset by Hoover's perimeter shooting prowess in the final two quarters.
Experience was a clear factor in the game, as facing a Hoover team with seven seniors on its roster, Roosevelt's rotation boasted just one senior, as it had throughout the season - point guard Corey Mitchell. Mitchell played well in his final game in a Roosevelt uniform, battling Iero for much of the night and posting a team-high 26 points to go along with good perimeter defense.
"Corey left everything he had on the floor tonight. Nobody works harder than Corey and I am happy he closed out his high school career the way he did," Dunlap observed.
Along with Mitchell, the Rough Riders relied on sophomore forwards Joe Watt and P.J. Maggard offensively and the trio were able to keep their team close even with Hoover showing the benefits of a high seed that had played a first-round game rather than take a bye and had a chance to get its feet wet in the postseason.
After a slow, grinding 57-39 win over Louisville in the opening round, the Vikings came out looking to push the pace against Roosevelt, believing that they had too much firepower for the Rough Riders to counter.
Instead, Roosevelt countered nearly every Hoover push in the first half, displaying a certain fearlessness as Mitchell, Watt and Maggard attacked the Vikings' man-to-man defense and found opportunities against a team that, outside of Blackledge, did not present a tremendous amount of size in its lineup. The Vikings could manage only a 45-37 lead at the half.
"We did some great things on offense. To score 67 versus Hoover was obviously a good thing, but to give up 91 is not good," Dunlap added.
Despite the defeat and the end to what was a challenging season both in Portage Trail Conference play and outside of it, Dunlap was proud of his team and the way they competed against a veteran team that nearly won the tough Federal League. He pointed to the success and growth of the team's underclassmen, especially Watts and Maggard, as a reason for hope going forward despite a difficult season for a team accustomed to seeing itself near the top of the PTC Metro Division standings.
"I couldn't be prouder of my guys. We battled until the very end. They gave me everything they had, as they have all year," Dunlap said. "We did have a lot of close games. We played a lot of really good teams this year. Our frame of mind was good. I feel blessed to have a quality group of guys who gave us everything every day. I thanked the group for being a great group of guys who do it the right way in the classroom, the community and on the floor. I wish we won more games, but I wouldn't trade them for any team in the state.”