Over the course of this season, the Boardman boys basketball team has definitely gone through its ups and downs.
After winning three straight games to start the year, the Spartans suffered a five-game losing streak at the end of 2021. But, since the new year, coach Pat Birch and his team have started to play some of their best basketball of the season and the 16th-seeded Spartans showcased that Wednesday night with a 59-48 upset win over No. 13 Alliance to secure their first win of the tournament.
“The first one is always the hardest one but everyone is in the same boat where everyone is headed into the tournament and you want to get at least one win under your belt,” Birch said. “Heading to Alliance on the road wasn’t the ideal situation. I didn’t realize until last night that they hadn’t had a home loss all season. So walking in we knew it was going to be a challenge and our guys stepped up and played pretty well.”
The Spartans had won three of their previous four games heading into their first round matchup with their loss coming against Canton GlenOak, who fell to Warren G. Harding on Wednesday. So, they felt if they just stuck to their game they could come out with a win and they did just that.
Jumping out to a 15-2 lead at one point in the first quarter and taking a 34-19 lead into the break the Spartans were cruising and when they’ve gotten out to a hot start this year, they’ve played well.
“The fast start has been important for us all year,” Birch said. “When we’ve started out strong, we’ve played out best and in our losses we’ve kinda slugged through the first quarter. That’s kinda been our M.O. all year long.”
A big part of that victory was the play of seniors Trey DePietro and Ben Alvarico as well. DePietro has been big for the Spartans all season long and Alvarico has recently worked his way back into the rotation after suffering an injury at the beginning of the season.
“He missed some time and he’s kinda gone back and forth trying to get back into the lineup,” said Birch about Alvarico, who scored 18 points and hit three 3-pointers on Wednesday. “We made a little bit of a switch around senior night and I kinda just went with him. I had a gut feeling and wanted to give him another shot because he has so much athletic ability and we thought we’d need that come tournament time. He really answered the call last night. (Wednesday).”
With a big win under their belt, the Spartans turn their attention towards the next round with a little bit of confidence.
“It’s always huge,” Birch said about getting a win on Wednesday. “When you go on the road and get a win over a good team it always makes you feel good about yourself.”
They’ll face off with No. 21 Massillon Washington, who they recently beat 45-44 on Feb. 15. So it will be a dual of two coaches making adjustments as they get set to square off for the second time in two weeks.
“That gave us a good idea of who they are and I’m pretty sure they’d say the same thing,” Birch said. “It was kind of a weird game where both teams, it was kinda like the first few rounds of a boxing match. Both teams were kinda feeling each other out knowing the tournament game would be right around the corner. I’m interested to see if they’ll make any adjustments and I know we’re going to try to change things up on them a little bit. But it still comes down to guys making plays. That’s what tournament basketball is about.”
The two teams will tip-off Saturday, 7 p.m. at Boardman High School.
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