WARREN - If you're a boy living in Windham, you drink milk and eat your vegetables, so you can grow big and strong enough to cut down the nets after a district championship game.
For the eighth time in 10 years and the third in four years, the Windham Bombers are the Division IV district champion after holding off the determined McDonald Blue Devils, 87-81, before a full house at Warren G. Harding High School Friday.
"We grew up watching kids cut down the nets," Bombers senior Matt Knight said of the history of success. "I remember Cody Apthorpe and Phil Workman up there cutting down the nets. We really looked up to them."
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
The Windham Bombers hoist the Division IV district trophy after defeating McDonald during Friday’s championship game at Warren G. Harding High School. Windham won, 87-81, and advanced to Tuesday’s regional semifinal in Canton.
For most of three quarters, the Bombers staged a clinic in opening two leads of 18 points, but things began to change when the Blue Devils made it a 13-point game through three quarters. That set the stage for a dramatic rally that propelled the Blue Devils to within two points, 83-81, with a chance to tie or take the lead when Kenny Greaver stole a pass following a 3-point shot by Stephen Politano.
The Bombers quickly turned the table when Jared Taylor stole a pass. Taylor flipped the ball to Parker Rickey, who gambled with a drive on Greaver for a layup and a four-point lead.
Knight was then fouled after a McDonald miss. He made both free throws with less than 10 seconds remaining to put the finishing touches on the win.
"He (Windham coach Marty Hill) told us to go at the big guy (Greaver) because he had four fouls," said Rickey, who finished with 24 points and nine rebounds. "I was going at him hoping I would get fouled or make the layup."
The Bombers (23-3) advance to the Canton regional to face Villa Angela-St. Joseph Tuesday at 8 p.m. at the Memorial Fieldhouse. The Blue Devils finished with a 21-5 record.
McDonald coach Jeff Rasile couldn't have asked more from his players after a terrible first half. The Blue Devils trailed 16-9 after one quarter and 47-33 at halftime. The Bombers were easily beating fullcourt pressure and scoring at will.
"The first half killed us, obviously," Rasile said. "They basically controlled the first 28 minutes. We came out in the last four minutes and played the way we wanted to play the whole game.
"We weren't rebounding the ball a lick. They were getting offensive rebounds. We're going to give up layups against the press, but you have to rebound the ball and we didn't do that early."
The Bombers' fast-paced offense was led in scoring by Knight with 25. Cameron Pozsgai added 19 points and Stephen Kacenski finished with 10.
Knight scored 15 points in the first half, and Rickey had 12. The teams finished tied in rebounds with 37 each, but Windham had the better of play under the boards in the first half.
"It's hard not to run on them because if you don't they'll keep trapping you," Hill said. "We did a great job of attacking their press. We didn't have many turnovers on the press. We had more turnovers when we tried to get them to slow down (in the halfcourt)."
Christian Rusinowski played a strong game in scoring 23 points and grabbing eight rebounds for the Devils. He fouled out early in the fourth quarter, which shifted more of the scoring load to Politano and Matt Seitz.
Politano, an excellent outside shooter, was held scoreless in the first quarter, but he scored 12 points in the final period to finish with 20. He connected on four 3-point shots. Seitz finished with 20 (eight in the fourth quarter), including four 3-point shots.
"This is the hardest run we've had to make to get to the district final, beating JFK and then Bristol," Rasile said. "After the Bristol game I looked at my kids in the locker room and I thought, oh, we're in big trouble because they were just done - emotionally and physically spent. I give them credit for finding a way to get back into the game."
For the Bombers, the thrill of cutting the nets never gets old.
"It's a great tradition," Rickey said. "I used to be the water boy. I loved coming here and going to Canton after a win."