WARREN - Most coaches pretend that they don't pay attention to the media, but McDonald coach Jeff Rasile threw that stereotype out the window.
Rasile read that Bristol coach Craig Giesy said he wanted the Blue Devils in Tuesday night's Division IV district semifinal at Warren G. Harding High School, and he took it to mean that the Panthers called out his team.
"When we feel like we get called out, it brings out the competitor in me," Rasile said. "I haven't slept for three days since I read the article when (Giesy) said they wanted to play us. That just kind of gets me going."
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
McDonald’s Stephen Politano (3) drives to the basket as Bristol’s Zeth Tomasiak (5) goes after the ball. Bristol’s Chad Oliver (12)?follows the play during the third quarter of McDonald’s 83-74 victory.
McDonald answered that call, snapping Bristol's undefeated run with an 83-74 win to move onto the district final game. The Blue Devils proved that in a matchup of two similar styles, they could do theirs better.
"We just prepared all week," McDonald junior Kenny Greaver said. "We wanted to show that if they want to play our style, we can play right with them."
In the fast-paced, back-and-forth action for which both teams are known, the Blue Devils (21-4) used their height to their advantage, especially Greaver.
Tickets for Friday's Division IV district final between Windham and McDonald can be purchased at the McDonald High School main office. Tickets are $6 for adults and $4 for students. Tickets can be purchased between 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Thursday and Friday.
The junior forward was a force on the low block, recording a triple-double. He amassed a team-high 21 points, snagged 15 rebounds and blocked 11 shots. The Panthers (24-1) had no answer except to foul him and put him on the line, where he struggled.
Greaver went 7 of 17 from the charity stripe.
"Greaver's a monster on the boards," Rasile said. "He's probably 4-5 inches taller than anyone they got, and he took advantage of that. I'm real proud of Kenny Greaver tonight."
Despite the advantage, neither team managed to pull away until halfway through the fourth quarter when McDonald's Anthony Pugh took over.
The sophomore scored 12 of his 19 points in the final quarter, doing most of his damage from the free throw line. He went 5 of 6 in the final 2 minutes.
Pugh's biggest contribution for his team came from a 3-pointer that sent his coach into a frenzy on the sideline. The 5-foot-7 point guard received a pass Christian Rusinowski on the right wing and drained it to give the Blue Devils a 62-57 lead with 5:27 remaining in the game.
It turned out to break Bristol's back, as the Panthers never recovered.
"I'm confident," Pugh said. "(Rasile) had been riding me all week - biggest game so far of the season. I knew when my shot came, I had to knock it down."
The loss overshadowed a big performance from Bristol's Brandon Lee.
With McDonald taking senior Chad Oliver out of the picture, limiting him to 16 points, the junior guard went off for the Panthers, scoring 29 points in the losing effort. He proved to be Bristol's biggest threat from beyond the arc, draining four 3-pointers.
"He is our clutch player," Geisey said. "When the game's on the line, that kid steps up every single time."
Despite falling short of his team's goal, Giesy didn't want to downplay his team's accomplishments.
The Panthers became the first team in Trumbull County to record a 22-0 regular season, and they won 24 consecutive wins during the season.
"I don't care who you're playing, 24 wins in a row is amazing," Giesy said. "Obviously, we didn't want it to end like this. We lost to a very good ball team - no doubt about it."
Following the game, both sides recollected on how special the game was.
"It was a great game," Giesy said. "I wish that I could have sat and watched it instead of being so stressed out."