For a lot of teams, the regular season finale can be a final tune-up against weaker competition.
The Chagrin Falls Tigers boys’ basketball team had no margin for error and lost 50-37 against Chagrin Valley Conference foe Cuyahoga Heights last Friday at the Ralph L. Quesinberry Gymnasium.
“It was a good test,” said Coach David Bargar. “The Red Wolves are a good team and are really tough and play a style that is difficult to play against and you have to be extremely efficient and I thought offensively we did a pretty job in the first half, but just did not have any energy on the defensive end.”
It marks the first time since the 2018-19 season that Chagrin Falls (12-10, 8-6) will finish without a winning home record in the regular season.
Despite finishing the season with a loss, playing against a high-caliber team like Cuyahoga Heights offered the Tigers a sneak preview in what awaits in the postseason.
“It is like a replica of who we will see in the playoffs,” said senior guard Nicholas Vinci. “It definitely will make us well-prepared. The Red Wolves played a zone the whole game so I am sure we will see that in the playoffs so it definitely will help us prepare.”
With the regular season having concluded, the Tigers are ready to make their mark in their Division III postseason debut.
Chagrin Falls may be a newcomer to Division III, but according to sophomore forward Ryan Curtiss, the new division is theirs for the taking.
“I think we have a huge opportunity to go far,” the 6-foot-2 forward said. “As long as we are locked in and play our game, we have a lot of opportunities. I think our defensive intensity and our ability to move without the ball is our biggest offensive strength. Defensive intensity is a big reason why so many of our games are so close.”
The Tigers took a 9-4 lead at the start of the opening period but Cuyahoga Heights buried shots from the perimeter to go on a 12-2 run and take a 5-point advantage at the end of the quarter.
Although Cuyahoga Heights is not a big team, it is fast and athletic and trotted out a starting lineup comprised of five guards.
There may not have been many opportunities for Cuyahoga Heights to crash the glass, but the Red Wolves small-ball line-up wreaked havoc against the Tigers’ defense.
Senior forward James Kosmides usually matched up against the opposition’s big man and would battle for position in the paint on both ends of the floor.
Against Cuyahoga Heights, the Tigers’ 6-foot-5 forward was pulled away from the basket and had to guard on the perimeter.
The 18th-year coach acknowledged that it was a difficult adjustment to make.
“Cuyahoga Heights did not really put anybody inside,” he said. “James had to go out and guard the perimeter and it opened up the basket for those guys to go in and drive.”
The Red Wolves shot 6 of 10 from the floor in the first period compared to Chagrin Falls shooting 5-of-11.
“It was tough because were not making out shots,” said Curtiss. “It is hard to win when you are not making shots.”
The pace of the game slowed down in the second period and Cuyahoga Heights drew the Tigers out to the perimeter.
Despite some long possessions, the Red Wolves either found the open man or had their playmakers get creative and make some baskets.
Individual playmaking has been a huge disparity for Chagrin Falls against its opponents this season.
“We just need someone to step up,” said the 6-foot Vinci. “Sophomore guard Spencer Kass does that a lot but we need more players that can do that night in and night out.”
The Red Wolves connected on 4 of 6 three-point shots in the first half while Chagrin Falls only made 3of 8 and Cuyahoga Heights increased its lead to 30-21 at the half.
“We are usually pretty good defensively and to give up 30 points at the half against a team that was playing that slow was a little bit disappointing,” Bargar said. “Because every possession mattered in that game and I thought we gave up way too many easy ones in the first half.”
The Tigers adjusted to Cuyahoga Heights’ perimeter offense in the third quarter and went on a 6-0 run, trimming the lead to only three points.
“We just tried pushing the tempo,” said Vinci. “By pushing the tempo and getting rebounds, we made sure they could not set up their defense. They would see a zone one time but then we would play man defense on the next possession.”
The Red Wolves also used a zone defense but Chagrin Falls found the open passing lanes and Curtiss and Kosmides used some high-low action to generate some open lay-ups and Curtiss paced the comeback by scoring 6 points in the third period.
“In the beginning of the season when we were faced with zone we just started chucking 3-pointers,” said Curtis.
“Now we have been getting the ball inside and scoring more on wide-open easy looks, being able to rotate the ball is a lot easier when you get inside.”
Just when the Tigers made it a one-possession game, Cuyahoga Heights’ got hot from the perimeter and were fueled by a 7-5 run to close the third quarter.
Chagrin Falls’ offense went cold in the fourth period and the Red Wolves went on a 7-0 surge to take a double-digit lead.
The Tigers committed five turnovers and shot only 2 of 9 in the final quarter to be outscored 13-5.
When it came to crunch time, the Tigers could not deliver.
“When you have to get stops against a talented offensive team, it makes it really difficult and I thought Cuyahoga Heights did that on Friday night,” said Bargar.
Chagrin Falls begins playoff action when it hosts CVC foe Wickliffe in the Ohio High School Athletic Association Division III Northeast 3 Region 13 Salem sectional final at 7 p.m. on Friday.
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