Any high school coach will say that every season is a different chapter.
The Gilmour Lancers boys’ basketball team three-peated as district champions, beating Youngstown Ursuline 74-68 in the Ohio High School Athletic Association Division II Northeast 2 Region 5 district final last Saturday afternoon at Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin’s McGarry Gymnasium in Chardon.
“It never gets old,” said Coach Dan DeCrane. “They are always unique in their own way but doing it three times in a row with three seniors who started for us for all three years is a testament to them. It is an incredible accomplishment.”
Gilmour will play Glenville in the Division II Region 5 semifinal at 8 p.m. on Thursday at the Canton Memorial Civic Center.
Before the Lancers started their district title dynasty, they had not appeared in a district championship since the 2013 playoffs.
DeCrane had only coached in one district championship game with his previous team, Columbus Bishop Ready, and that was the season prior to his becoming Gilmour’s new coach.
After he became the head coach in the 2018-19 campaign, it took the team just three seasons to reach a district title game.
Since then it has been smooth sailing for the Lancers (16-10).
Unlike its previous two district championships, Gilmour was not heavily favored to capture another district banner because it fielded its youngest roster in DeCrane’s tenure.
Although the team had three-year starting seniors, wing Brandon Rose, guards Adisa Molton III and Dorjan Flowers, the rest of the team was green.
In addition to a young roster, the Lancers also had one of the most difficult schedules in school history with most of their opponents being Division I powerhouse programs.
“We probably had the most difficult schedule since I’ve been here and some of those days were harder to live through because of the talented programs we played,” acknowledged the five-year coach. “Those days in December were harder and then in January I thought we were starting to turn a corner but then had the injury bug go through us on a lot of levels and finally when February came around, we were healthy and in a good spot.”
Gilmour’s strength of schedule prepared it for another deep postseason run and the underclassmen quickly matured.
“We had kids that had never played substantial varsity basketball before and we knew we were going to get better as the year went on,” DeCrane said. “They stayed together and grew a lot as a strong unit. They really outworked Ursuline for most of the game and it was really great to see a win on the big stage.”
The Fighting Irish dominated at the start, going on a 12-0 run in the first quarter keyed by 4 points by senior forward Terrance Pankey and 6 points from senior guard Vinny Flauto, who hit a pair of 3-point shots.
“We knew Pankey was going to get his points,” said DeCrane. “He is a great attacker and a great slasher and is an okay shooter, but the guy we wanted to make sure that did not have huge game was Flauto, because he could really stretch the floor.”
According to DeCrane, Youngstown Ursuline’s fast start did not rattle the Lancers and they responded with a 10-6 run to end the first period.
He said Gilmour’s most recent comeback victory against Girard in the district semifinal last Thursday helped the team be more comfortable playing from behind.
The Lancers outscored Youngstown Ursuline 11-5 at the beginning of the second period, tying the game at 21-21 but the Fighting Irish went on an 8-0 scoring spree.
Gilmour answered with a12-4 surge, knotting the score at 31-31 at halftime on a buzzer-beating shot from the 5-foot-11 Molton III, who scored 13 points in the half.
“Adisa had a buzzer-beater to end the quarter and hit two 3-pointers,” said DeCrane. “They were trying to take away his driving lanes but he just did a really good job of stepping up as a senior and a three-year starter.”
In addition to Molton III’s big first half, the Lancers were sparked by their outside shooting, hitting five 3-point shots in the second quarter to take momentum into the half.
Molton III made a pair of 3-point shots, junior guard Jimmy Lawless connected on two shots from long distance and sophomore forward Zachary Titas hit one.
After taking two of the Fighting Irish’s best shots, the Lancers were still standing.
“Youngstown Ursuline had a different style of zone from Girard’s so in this one I thought we were going to get a lot of open shots earlier and we did,” DeCrane said. “It was kind of the sense that we had been here before and when we do the right things on offense and the ball moves and we have some paint touches that good things are going to happen.”
Although the pace slowed in the third period, the Lancers assumed control, outscoring Youngstown Urusline 18-7 to build an 11-point advantage.
The 6-foot-3 Rose ignited Gilmour’s run, tallying seven points but the Fighting Irish trimmed the lead to single digits with a 6-0 run at the end at the end of the quarter.
The Lancers pushed their lead back to 11 points in the fourth period but Youngstown Ursuline remained within striking distance, fueled by 8 points by junior center Jaden Payne.
DeCrane said the Fighting Irish tried full-court pressure but his team passed out of the traps for some easy looks.
“I do not know if we turned it over once against their pressure,” he added. “It was pretty impressive. We moved the ball around and Adisa handled it really well and even Dorjan did a good job at not turning it over and finding the open guy.”
Although it was a two-possession game at the 3:30 mark, the Fighting Irish started intentionally fouling Gilmour because they could not get any defense stops.
The Lancers went 14-of-20 from the foul line in the final quarter, propelling them to another Division II district championship.
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