St. Vincent-St. Mary guard Treyvon Crater seemingly had a clear lane to the goal with precious few seconds remaining and intentions of crushing ’s long-held dream, the school’s first Final Four in boys’ basketball.
But Cougars senior forward Dan Schweikert quickly closed on Crater and seemingly flew out of the Canton Memorial Civic Center’s rafters boldly swatting away the Irish guard’s threat and preventing the Region II final from being any more complicated than it needed to be Saturday.
Cougars head basketball coach Mark Chicone let out a victory yell, squeezed his assistant coaches and junior forward Mark Baniewicz canned a pair of free throws with 1.5 seconds left as Lake Catholic found itself headed to Columbus after defeating the defending Division II champion Fighting Irish, 65-63.
“It’s what we’ve been waiting for all four years,” Schweikert said. “This is it. As soon as I felt that ball, I knew that we were probably going to win. All the hard work we put in this season, it’s coming to fruition. I’m so proud to be able to be part of probably the best team in Lake Catholic history.”
Joey Vuyancih led the Cougars (23-2) with 17 points, including 3-of-5 crucial free throws down the stretch to preserve the victory. The senior guard didn’t want to merely graduate from Lake Catholic as the . Vuyancih wants to be a champion, too.
It won’t be easy because the Cougars will face No. 1 ranked and undefeated Dunbar of Dayton on Friday at 10:45 a.m. at the Jerome Schottenstein Center of Ohio State in the state semifinals.
“We’ve had a great season thus far, but it would have been extremely disappointing (if it ended today),” Vuyancih said. “I just didn’t feel like we were ready for it to be over yet.”
Chicone, who has coached the Cougars for the last five years and won a state title with the Villa Angela-St. Joseph girls’ team in 1999, described all the struggles it took for his team to reach a new plateau in the school’s history.
“It takes so many things. You got to have so many players that make big plays. It’s got to come from so many directions: heart, character and luck. You’ve got to have some luck. We’ve had three two-point games in the tournament (University School, John Hay and SVSM). Any one of those games could have gone either way. It’s hard to put into words,” Chicone, 45, said.
Baniewicz and Schweikert each had 14 points, while senior Mike Whalen had 12 for Lake Catholic. Senior D.J. Blanks led the Irish (16-10) with 24 points, while junior Franshon Bickley had 14 followed by sophomore Lorenzo Cugini’s 13.
Earlier this season, SVSM defeated Lake Catholic, 69-67, on Jan. 10 for one of the Cougars two losses on the season, the other coming to St. Edward, 85-52, on Dec. 9.
Although SVSM was not ranked in either the state or the Plain Dealer’s Top 25 poll, they knocked off Akron East, 64-59, to reach the regional final. And with six state titles on SVSM’s resume, Lake Catholic clearly had a huge mental hurdle to overcome.
Lake Catholic hadn’t reached the regionals since 1997 and despite being ranked seventh in the Plain Dealer’s Top 25 poll and 10th in the state, the Cougars could have been considered an underdog against a perennial powerhouse like SVSM.
The game certainly didn’t play out that way, however.
Leading, 49-43, after three quarters, Lake Catholic maintained a slim lead throughout the final period as SVSM got within three points three times, the last coming with Blanks making 1-of-2 free throws to pull the Irish to 62-59 with 1:43 remaining.
In an attempt to milk the clock, Vuyancih threw an errant pass beyond the baseline giving the Irish possession with one minute remaining, although SVSM’s Cugini hoisted an airball with 43.5 seconds left that went out of bounds.
On the ensuing possession, Bickley swiped the ball from Cougar guard Paul Wojtila at midcourt and drove to the basket as Wojtila fouled him with 28.2 seconds left. Bickley made 1-of-2 from the charity stripe for a 62-60 deficit.
SVSM’s Aaron Bushner then fouled Whalen. The senior forward’s first shot bounded high off the rim and in for a 63-60 lead with 14.3 seconds left. The second also banged high off the rim, but the same luck wasn’t afforded the Cougars.
SVSM regained possession, but that’s when Schweikert stepped in to save the day, and Baniewicz made his two free throws to seal it. Blanks nailed a three-pointer just before the buzzer sounded, but it was too late.
Baniewicz, who is also the starting quarterback on the football team, wanted a piece of the Irish, especially after they ended the Cougars’ football season last year.
“Big revenge game for me,” Baniewicz said. “It’s heartbreaking losing in football. We had to come out today and give them a taste of their own medicine.”
After SVSM led, 16-12, after the first quarter, a Whalen jumper and a pair of Schweikert buckets opened the second quarter for a quick 6-0 run as the Cougars led, 18-16, and never trailed thereafter.
The Cougars scrappy defense held the Irish from scoring until Cugini’s jumper broke the drought at 3:08 with Lake Catholic up, 22-18. Cugini’s jumper ignited a brief 6-2 run that the sophomore finished off with a 3-pointer to tie at 24-24.
But with 1:35 left in the half, the Cougars reeled off six straight points with two layups from sophomore Zavier Powers and one from Whalen to lead, 30-24, at halftime.
Lake Catholic went on a tear to open the third quarter going on a 19-10 run and penetrating inside the Irish’s interior for layups and a long-range bomb from Whalen, but SVSM’s Jordan Hargrove completed a three-point play and converted another basket to spark a 6-0 run to end the quarter.
St. Vincent-St. Mary 16 8 19 20 63
Lake Catholic 12 18 19 16 65
SVSM – D.J. Blanks 24, Franshon Bickley 14, Jordan Hargrove 6, Treyvon Crater 2, Victor Dorsey 2, Lorenzo Cugini 13, Aaron Bushner 2.
Lake Catholic – Zavier Powers 4, Joey Vuyancih 17, Mark Baniewicz 14, Paul Wojtila 4, Mike Whalen 12, Dan Schweikert 14.