Article: Padua comes together to fend off NDCL
The message was, 'Play Together.' The message was, 'Play to win, not play not to lose.' The message was, 'Finish the game.'
Those phrases all courtesy of Padua Head Coach Jake Lantz, as he emphasized that countless times this past week in practice. This all paid off, as his Bruins emerged victorious in a chippy North Coast League battle with the Lions of NDCL, 49-38.
"We talked all week after the North Royalton tournament about coming together, playing together, being unselfish, and playing the way you're coached," said Lantz, whose team lost their two games in the Bears Holiday Tournament last week.
"Tonight, you saw it. I couldn't be more proud of the fellas. We could have folded, and a couple different times we did fold. We're finally starting to play."
In a game where neither team shot very well and sloppy ball-handling and passing led to numerous turnovers, the host Bruins were able to shift the momentum to their side at the key moments. The Lions led, 11-4, after eight minutes but it was the home team behind seven Chris Link points and eight from Tyler Ptacek that held a 21-17 halftime advantage.
"Quite truthfully, this whole week of practice, I was a bear," said Lantz, in his first season leading the Bruins. "We practiced in four minute increments the whole time. We learned no fouls, to toughen up mentally, play through it, and close games out. They did that tonight, all the credit goes to them."
Things really became physical in the 3rd, soon after the Lions used a 10-4 run to take a 27-25 lead and force a Padua timeout with 4:46 in the quarter. Three point plays by Junior John Cirillo and Senior Chris Shkil were the game-changers, but the Bruins clawed their way back.
Foul trouble set in, as NDCL finished the game with a total of 26 team fouls. Cirillo, Mark Malone, and John Brownlee all fouled out in the second half, breaking down what was a balanced scoring attack.
"I could see [NDCL] falling apart, so I was just telling our guys to stay together," said Padua Senior Point Guard Matt Milliken. "That's what we've been talking about, coming together and being a team. That's what we were in the second half. We just stayed together."
The Bruins trailed, 31-30, to start the final quarter, but Milliken led a defensive charge that forced Lion turnovers and led Padua back in the game. The momentum finally swung in favor of the Brown and White with 3:35 in the game, as a Milliken steal led to an easy layup putting Padua up 39-33.
"Down the stretch we definitely got the hustle points," said Junior Danny Paulitzky. The 5'8" Junior Guard earned the start and was relentless on defense throughout, teaming up with Milliken and Senior Andrew Halter to form a tenacious trio of defenders.
"Andrew was getting steals, scrapping for balls, working hard," continued Paulitzky. "So was Scott Sechler. Everyone was working hard. The motto this week was finish the game."
Halter, Ptacek, Milliken, Paulitzky, and Link all sank clutch free throws near the end to put away the 49-38 win. Ptacek and Link each finished with 16 points for the Bruins, as 19 of their 49 points came at the free throw line.
"I think this really could be a building block," said Milliken, a four-year starter. "We really came together as a team. We really could start doing some special things."
Cirillo led the Lions with 17 points. Shkil and Junior Daniel Sapp each grabbed ten rebounds.
Padua improves to 3-6 on the season, 1-2 in the highly competitive North Coast League. The Bruins do not get much time to rest before their next game - a showdown with cross-town rival Holy Name inside Padua Gymnasium on Saturday night.
"We're going to have to show up and play," said Lantz. "Our season has prepared us for this. We've played back-to-back games, we've played in tournaments on back-to-back nights. This is nothing. We're going to have to come ready to play, because I know Holy Name will."
Tip-off is at 7:30pm on Saturday.