Despite this being one of the most challenging high school seasons in recent memory, the postseason is drawing closer. All teams now must begin to find consistency before the tournament kicks off. The Chardon Hilltoppers boys basketball team was hoping to do that as they continued their stretch of conference games.
The Hilltoppers started off on the right foot as they knocked off Western Reserve Conference rivals the Kenston Bombers on Feb. 8 on the road but then fell to the Mayfield Wildcats on Feb. 9. Things were not going to get easier as Chardon prepared to host reigning WRC champs the Brush Arcs.
Brush has been ranked as one the top teams in the Northeast Ohio region and for good reason. The team boasts one of the top players in the area in junior guard Elmore James. Chardon knew that if it had any chance to win it would have to shut down the Arcs’ star 6-foot-3 guard. The Hilltoppers threw everything they had at James but Brush’s depth proved to be too much to overcome as the Arcs downed their conference rivals by a 69-54 score on Feb. 12 in Chardon.
The Hilltoppers began the evening on a high note as senior forward Brady Toth’s first basket of the game eclipsed the one thousand-point mark for his career. Toth’s career-making bucket came on a three-pointer from the corner off an assist from junior forward Nathanael Sulka. Once Toth drained the bucket all play was paused as the Hilltoppers honored their star forward’s milestone.
“That was my goal ever since freshman year. I got it but that’s not our goal for the rest of the season. Our goal is to get to districts and that’s what we want to do,” said Toth.
Despite a pandemic-riddled high school season of athletics it has been an unforgettable year for Toth who helped lead the Chardon football team to a Division III state championship in November. The senior was named to the Division III All-Ohio first team defense for his work at defensive back. He currently holds offers from several colleges to continue his athletic career but he is undecided whether to focus on football or basketball.
James was whistled for two fouls early in the first quarter and had to head to the bench. Although the Hilltoppers had a chance to make a big run over their conference foes with the Arcs’ star player on the sideline they struggled to connect from long distance while Brush knocked down a pair of triples to take a five-point lead at the end of the first.
“We’ve been kind of on-and-off this year,” said Sulka, “It just depends on the game.”
Chardon turned up its defensive intensity in the second quarter and junior guard Joshua Bruce led the way as he helped key an 8-0 spurt to help the Hilltoppers take a four-point lead. James was back in the game but the Hilltoppers were sending a double team at him every time he touched the ball. James was limited to just two points in the first half but the Arcs got contributions from other players to end the half on a 13-3 run.
The Hilltoppers cut the lead to just two points in the early minutes of the second half but the Arcs’ junior guard Andrew Jones caught fire from beyond the arc and drained three triples in the third quarter and James chipped in with seven points to keep Brush out in front. The Hilltoppers continued to remain ice-cold from long range and soon fell behind by 20 points in the fourth. Brush finished the game with 11 triples compared to just six for Chardon. It was a tough game but the Hilltoppers knew they would be in for a fight and are focused on improving before the postseason begins.
“We can get better in every area whether it’s offense, defense, shooting, passing, dribbling, boxing out. There’s not an area we’re not going to try and address to get ourselves in a position to win,” said head coach Chad Murawski.
Sulka was the leading scorer for the Hilltoppers as he scored 18 points, hauled in six rebounds and dished out five assists followed by Bruce who tallied 13 points and grabbed two rebounds. Brush junior guard Elias Johnson led his team with 14 points and six rebounds while James scored 13 points, grabbed five rebounds and recorded two assists. The Hilltoppers will end their regular season by facing WRC rivals the Willoughby South Rebels this Friday evening in Willoughby.