Preppers’ senior center Ricky Radtke and Gilmour big men Ryan Mueller, left, and Ben DeMell, right, chase down a loose ball during University School’s win on Feb. 13 in Hunting Valley.

Every high school basketball team can hear the footsteps of the sectional tournament as it draws closer. No matter how hard this high school season has been there is no mistaking the exciting feeling of postseason play. The tournament is not here yet as there still is work to do in the regular season.

There was one important piece of business to take care for the Gilmour Lancers boys basketball team and the University School Preppers. The neighborhood rivals were scheduled to play the Battle of SOM Center on Jan. 8 but that game was canceled because the Preppers had to shut down for two weeks.

It wasn’t even a question of whether that game would be made up. In a season like the 2020-21 campaign, it was a welcome feeling to have the yearly rivalry game between the two schools. Despite a slow start University School shifted into another gear in the fourth quarter to overcome a fourth-quarter deficit and stormed past Gilmour by a 59-53 margin on Feb. 13 at Hunting Valley.

The Lancers held a seven-point edge entering the final quarter as the Preppers had struggled to get a spark all night long on offense. Senior guard Faris Dahman ignited his team by draining a three-pointer to kick off the fourth. The Preppers crashed the glass to extend possessions and the senior guard remained red-hot from long distance to fuel an 11-3 run. It was a big pick-me-up for the University School point guard who has struggled to find his three-point shot all season.

“I was struggling for a few games before today and I just knew that I had to keep on letting it go. My confidence is always there. Just hitting that first one in the fourth was huge for me and I think that my team needed me,” said Dahman.

It was a big win for the Preppers as they were still licking their wounds after suffering a defeat against the Shaker Heights Raiders on Feb. 9. The University School offense looked lost to start the game as the Lancers held them to just two field goals in the first quarter. Gilmour boasts the length and athleticism needed to match up with its rivals and made life difficult for the Preppers until the fourth.

“We were in a tough spot. We were down seven points in a low-scoring, low-possession game. At one point I looked at our assistant coach and said, ‘I don’t know how many times we’re going to get the ball back because Gilmour is very patient,’” said University School head coach Sean McDonnell, “We sped them up and were fortunate that they didn’t convert and I think that all compounded to give us a chance late.”

The Lancers entered the evening playing its third game of the week. They defeated the North Royalton Bears in overtime on Feb. 9 but then dropped a contest to the Walsh Jesuit Warriors on Feb. 12. Despite playing more games than its rival, Gilmour looked like the team that had more energy at the start of the game. Unfortunately, the Lancers lost steam down the stretch and scored just nine points in the final quarter.

“We didn’t hit some shots. We struggled to score a little bit which we have in the second half and fourth quarter all season. They got a lot of drives to the basket and grabbed a big couple of offensive rebounds. The second opportunities hurt us,” said Lancers’ head coach Dan DeCrane.

It was a great feeling for University School to win the annual rivalry game but that was just the icing on the cake. The Preppers hope to enjoy the whole cake in the tournament as they have drawn a great bracket which gives them an opportunity to hold home court all the way up until the district finals in the Division 1 Northeast 2 bracket.

Dahman and senior center Ricky Radtke each scored 17 points for the Preppers. Lancers’ senior forward Ben DeMell was the team’s leading scorer as he tallied 16 points and grabbed 11 rebounds while junior forward Ryan Mueller followed up with 12 points, hauled in 11 rebounds and dished out one assist.

University School will close out the regular season by celebrating senior night and welcoming West Geauga to town on Feb. 19, then will face Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin on Feb. 20 in Chardon. The Lancers will host their season finale by facing off against John F. Kennedy Catholic School on Feb. 19 in Gates Mills.

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