The West Geauga Wolverines boys’ basketball team’s bench was shaking with anticipation in the final minute of the fourth period last Saturday.
The Wolverines held a 41-38 lead and were on the verge of their first victory but Chagrin Valley Conference rival Geneva tied the game when sophomore guard/forward Luke Barbo knocked down a deep 3-pointer off an assist from junior guard Luke Smith.
“That three was a tough three,” Coach Micah Young said. “It was pretty good defense but just a tough shot and it is going to happen sometimes in basketball.”
West Geauga outlasted the Eagles in overtime by limiting them to only one field goal and won 55-45 at The Wolvarena in Chester for its first victory of the season.
In addition to finally getting in the win column, it also marked the first career victory for the first-year coach.
“It is awesome,” the 2017 West Geauga graduate said. “Seeing all of these familiar faces in the crowd and having people come up to me before and after the game. There has also been great support from the community. I was overwhelmed with emotion.”
Young’s coaching tenure at his alma matter had gotten off to a slow start with the Wolverines (1-3, 1-3) still searching for a victory after three consecutive losses.
West Geauga fields seven seniors, with five having been a part of the Wolverines’ basketball program for all four years of their high school careers.
The other two upperclassmen are newcomers. Senior forward Elijah Maldonado transferred from North Olmsted and senior guard Austin Pascoe came from the football team to play basketball for his senior year.
West Geauga has already added several underclassmen to the rotation in sophomore guards Landon Lear and Colin Whiting, and junior guard Carson Weisman .
The Wolverines’ starting five is comprised of two seniors, two juniors and one sophomore.
According to Young, it the perfect blend of experience and youth.
“It’s great to have those senior guys come back,” he said. “I coached those guys when they were on the freshman team and it is great to have those younger guys you can rely on and use as building blocks for the program.”
After junior guard Carson Weisman scored on a fast-break lay-up off of a turnover to put West Geauga ahead 2-0, neither team hit a field goal until the halfway through the first quarter.
West Geauga stifled the Eagles’ offense but only held a 4-0 lead before Geneva senior guard Anothony Kosicek hit a free throw at the 5:39 mark for his team’s first points.
The Wolverines could not overcome Geneva’s zone defense and were outscored 11-0 to fall behind by eight points at the end of the first quarter.
“It was tough,” senior forward Jesse Moriarity said. “We had a few turnovers at first but in the second quarter we started picking Geneva up and started knocking down shots.”
The Eagles increased their lead to 14-4 and West Geauga was scoreless until senior forward Jerry Kline-Ruminski hit a free throw at the 5:02 mark of the second period.
Lear keyed a 10-1 run to tie the game while hitting a pair of 3-pointers in scoring eight points.
Young noted the 6-foot-1 Lear has already emerged as one of West Geauga’s best shooters.
“Landon has not shot the ball well in the first three games but he shot the snot out of the ball on Saturday night,” he said. “He started off slow but once he got going, he is like that. He is a spark plug offensively and can fill it up in many different ways.”
After converting five field goals in the first period, the Eagles were held to only two in the second and West Geauga outscored their conference foe 17-5 to take four-point lead at intermission.
“Everyone’s energy was just up,” Lear said. “When we started knocking down shots, everybody just got into the game more than they already were.”
The Wolverines stretched their lead to 27-22 at the beginning of the third quarter but Geneva suddenly got hot from long-distance and went on an 11-3 run fueled by three straight 3-pointers.
The 6-foot-0 Morarity had the hot hand and hit a pair of 3-pointers, including a buzzer-beater from the right wing to tie the game at 35-35.
Young said the Wolverines have not been shy about launching 3-pointers this season but the results have not reflected their shooting prowess.
“We shoot a ton of shots in practice every day,” he said. “When we are hot like most high school teams, we are hot, but we have to find more consistency from the three. Jesse stepped up when he hit two threes. We have multiple guys who can hit threes which is great. I will never complain about that but we still have to get a little more consistent with our 3-point shooting.”
West Geauga’s offense stalled in the fourth period, making only one field goal and went four of seven from the foul line before Geneva tied the game.
“At the end we needed to have better close-outs and have better defense,” Moriarity said.
The Wolverines held a three-point advantage at the beginning of overtime when Lear delivered the dagger by knocking down a corner triple off an assist from Weisman.
“I felt like we had it in in the bag,” he said. “Once I hit that shot I knew we had that game.”
Lear continued having ice water in his veins by scoring 10 of his 25 points in the overtime period, including converting 6 of 7 free throws.
“Landon is an outstanding player,” Moriarity said. “He is one the greatest shooters on our team and it just feels outstanding to be part of a team with him.”
Following a home contest against CVC rival Beachwood on Wednesday, the Wolverines will hit the road for a conference duel against Harvey at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Painesville.
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