HOWLAND - The Brookfield Warriors threw down the challenge, and it was up to Ryan Strollo to do something about it.
The Warriors made it clear by their defensive game plan against the Ursuline Fighting Irish that the slick-shooting Strollo had to be kept in check, playing a 3-2 zone and a sagging man-to-man. No one sagged against Strollo, who has the ability to make 3-point shots from NBA distances.
With the score tied at 31 early in the fourth quarter, Strollo, who had seven points at that juncture, scored nine of Ursuline's next 10 points and had 11 in the quarter to power the Irish to a 47-40 win in a semifinal of the Division III district Tuesday at Howland High School.
"Most of the shots he took early were uncontested," Irish coach Keith Gunther said. "The shots he made in the fourth quarter at crunch time were with guys in his face. He was six feet behind the line on one.
"We had talked to Ryan before the game. It's his senior year. Sometimes guys don't want to lose, and I think he kind of put us on his back and made some big shots."
The fourth-seeded Irish (13-11) will play the top-seeded LaBrae Vikings Saturday at 7 p.m. for the district title. The Warriors, who were seeded second, finished the season with a 21-4 record.
Strollo, who led all scorers with 18 points, wasn't pleased with the scoring output in the first three quarters. The Irish scored just eight points in the first quarter and had 28 in trailing by one point through the third period.
"We're usually a team that shoots the ball pretty well," Strollo said. "All game we were struggling. The fourth quarter we made some shots. They were tough ones, but we made them when we had to."
Gunther was far more pleased with the Irish's play on the defensive end. Knowing the offensive prowess of Brookfield senior Jeremy Quinlan, Gunther put Khalid Pierce on Quinlan. It was football player on football player in a physical matchup.
"Quinlan has been scoring for them all year long," Gunther said. "I put a big, strong football player against a long, tall, strong football player. I thought Khalid did a nice job to slow him down. I thought we defended great and rebounded the ball extremely well."
Quinlan scored 12 points, but had just two points in the third quarter and two in the fourth. Ryan Mosora picked up some of the scoring slack with 13 points, but the Warriors didn't have enough offense across the board.
"I didn't think we got good shots," Kovach said. "A lot of that had to do with them. They were physical. We played teams similar to that. Youngstown East was very physical. The difference came down to rebounding toward the end of the game, and we just could not get good shots."
The Irish had a 27-18 rebounding advantage. Kevin Jackson pulled down eight missed shots, and Pierce grabbed seven.
Brookfield led 11-8 through one quarter and 22-21 at halftime. The Warriors had a 22-15 lead, but Desmond McElroy made consecutive fielders followed by two free throws for the Irish going into halftime.
"You can tell those (Brookfield) kids are tough," Gunther said. "They're all not just basketball players; they're athletes. That's why they went far in the tournament and in football. They're competitive, nasty, tough and physical. I thought early in the game their physicalness bothered us a little bit."
Preston Williams scored 13 points for Ursuline.
The loss means an end to the high school basketball careers of four talented Brookfield seniors Quinlan, his brother Jimmy, Mosora and Collin Harkulich.
"I can't say enough about our four seniors," Kovach said. "I think they finished 54-11 the last three years. They're all going to play either basketball, football or baseball in college. They have nothing to hang their heads about."