Right after the Gilmour Lancers boys basketball team lost to the Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin Lions on senior night they had to go into quarantine for the second time this season. The team did need some rest as it had played a ton of games in the past few weeks but now couldn’t practice together for an extended period.
It was just another setback during a difficult season but the Lancers weren’t making any excuses. Head coach Dan DeCrane noticed something had changed as soon as they returned to the court on Feb. 6 and lost to Garfield Heights. Gilmour had only practiced for a few days before the game but the third-year coach believed that the team had played a great game.
The Lancers didn’t put many victories on the board as the sectional tournament drew near but coach DeCrane could tell that his team was playing better basketball and on the verge of something great. The Lancers finished the season with a 7-9 record but found that extra gear once the postseason began and defied all odds to claim the Division II Northeast 4 district championship. Gilmour continued its improbable run by overcoming a sloppy first quarter to knock off the Youngstown Chaney Cowboys in the Division II regional semifinals by a 59-52 final score on March 11 in Barberton.
“We knew coming into the game that Youngstown Chaney was a big and physical team. We knew we had to bring it to them tonight and it really showed,” said senior forward Ben DeMell.
The Cowboys had developed an identity as an aggressive team on the defensive end this year and weren’t afraid to get in their opponents faces. The Lancers looked overwhelmed by the moment in the first quarter as they committed six turnovers and tried to rush everything on offense which played right into Youngstown Chaney’s hands. As a result the Cowboys jumped out to a 15-5 lead.
“We came out and had some sophomores out there that looked a little tight,” said coach DeCrane. “It was a bigger stage for them. I just knew that we were going to be a little more of ourselves. The two things were handling pressure and rebounds. Our guys found ways to make plays and I’m really proud of them.”
The Lancers’ coach told his team to simply relax before the second quarter began. DeMell helped spread that message as the Cowboys left him open on the perimeter and the 6-foot-4 senior made them pay by splashing in three triples to ignite the offense. The Gilmour forward is no stranger to big moments as he pushed the baseball team to the 2019 Division II state finals after tossing a shutout against St. Clairsville in the state semifinals game. DeMell’s clutch shooting cut the lead to just five points entering the break.
“Ben was a very big factor for us by him hitting those big shots, getting boards and playing defense for us,” noted sophomore guard Adisa Molton.
Now that DeMell had shown he could knock down the three-pointer the Cowboys had to be mindful of the Lancers’ shooting on the perimeter which allowed Gilmour to penetrate the paint and keep hammering away until it finally tied the game at the end of the third quarter on an out-of-bounds play in which Molton found junior Ryan Mueller underneath the rim.
The Lancers took the lead for the first time on a Vinny Bandwen drive to the basket. Gilmour slowly pulled away and held a 45-41 lead midway through the fourth quarter and then scored five unanswered points to take full control of the game. Gilmour outscored the Cowboys by a 54-37 margin in the final three quarters.
“We’ve been through it all. If I could write a novel about the last four months of our COVID season it would keep going,” chuckled coach DeCrane. “It keeps going. We’re adding more chapters to it.”
The Lancers’ next chapter was going to come against the powerhouse St. Vincent-St. Mary Fighting Irish. It marked the first time since the 1992 season that Gilmour had made the regional finals and it would need to buckle down to keep the magic going against a team looking to get back to the state semifinals for the second time in three years. The Lancers’ run came to an end as the Fighting Irish overwhelmed them by a 67-40 score in the Division II regional finals on March 13 in Barberton.
“We didn’t want to get out of our half-court defense. They just posed so many problems you need to pick your poison and have to live with something. They didn’t shoot it great but we just needed to get the rebounds earlier and we didn’t do a great job in the second half,” noted coach DeCrane.
Gilmour tried to slow down the pace against its opponents in the first quarter but struggled to gain any sort of offensive rhythm as the Fighting Irish’s length and athleticism made it difficult to drive into the paint and get any open shots from the perimeter. St. Vincent-St. Mary slowly pulled away with its aggressive defense and took a 25-8 lead midway through the second quarter before Gilmour went on an 8-1 run to pull within ten points at the break.
The Lancers cut the deficit to just eight points at the beginning of the third quarter but the Fighting Irish responded with a 16-4 run to blow the game open. It was the end of the ride for Gilmour but what a ride it was.
“It was really fun. The Warrensville game really brought us together as a team. The seniors really paved the path for us and overall it was a great season,” said junior forward Ryan Mueller.