NEWTON FALLS — It’s hard to complain after your team starts a tournament game on a 13-0 run.
Garfield rode a hot start through its sectional bracket final matchup against Newton Falls, beating the Tigers 44-35 Friday night on the road.
After losing to Newton Falls to close out January and Liberty to open February, the G-Men have now won five straight games entering the district semifinals.
“We’ve slowly gotten better,” Garfield coach Andrew Olesky said. “We took it on the chin at Campbell, but a lot of teams have, there’s no fault in that. We’re slowly getting better on both ends of the court, specifically against the zone defense. We were locked in tonight defensively. They’ve been lighting it up, (Jordan) Dowling’s been lighting it up and to hold him to four points and the team to 37, I’m very proud of our guys.
“Our continued trend upward, it was evident tonight. We’ve struggled at times offensively, but that’s going to happen against a quality team like Newton Falls who plays a great zone defense. I’m really proud of our guys because they busted their tails on both ends for 32 full minutes.”
Garfield’s defense kept the high-powered Newton Falls offense off the scoresheet until 1:54 remaining in the first quarter. After a 13-0 Garfield run throughout the opening quarter, the Tigers made one of their own in response, but the G-Men held a 16-9 lead after the first.
The G-Men closed out the first half with a bang after Brody Swigonski hit a fadeaway 3-pointer at the buzzer to extend their lead to 12.
Kaiden Spade led Garfield with 20 points. Swigonski tacked on seven.
Mac Haidet led the Tigers with seven points.
The Tigers’ season ends at 12-12 and they graduate four seniors including Dowling.
“Honestly, it was a surprisingly good year,” Newton Falls coach Roy Sembach said. “We were back-to-back league champions, but we lost just about everybody from those teams. The expectations this season, I didn’t know if we were going to win more than a handful of games.
“We ended up going .500, but we were in every single game we played. We battled the Liberty’s, we battled the Campbell’s, the LaBrae’s. I just wish this team could have gotten a signature win over one of those or tonight because we were so close so many times.”
Expectations are going to be different next season however as seven of the team’s top nine players are returning.
While the scoring slowed, which was expected against a team like Newton Falls, the G-Men never relented and held the lead throughout.
“If you could script a start, that’s probably what we would script,” Olesky said. “We got some shots, we got some easy run outs, we got some deflections that led to layups. It kind of takes the pressure off. Sometimes we struggle to get out of the gate scoring-wise, and we did tonight and that kind of helped us relax a little bit.
“Then we were focused defensively and we just took it from there. A wire-to-wire lead, we’ll take it this time of the year. When half the state gets eliminated on a nightly basis, we’ll it take any way we can get. We’re moving on.”
The G-Men move on to the Division III Salem District semifinals where they’ll take on the top seed in the district, Springfield Local. Tipoff between Garfield and the Tigers is set for Monday at 7 p.m. at the John A. Cabas Gymnasium in Salem.
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