With one more chance to play under fire before postseason arrived, the Twinsburg boys basketball team won a Saturday matinee 51-40 at Stow-Munroe Falls Feb. 23 in the regular season finale.
The afternoon victory over Stow pushed a veteran Twinsburg club to 17-5 overall and to second place in the Northeast Ohio River Division at 7-3.
Stow, which is a team that will compete in the same sectional as the Tigers, fell to 10-12 overall. Hudson won the division at 8-2.
A big 15-9 second quarter advantage lifted Twinsburg over Stow, which trailed 24-14 at the half in a matchup which is always a defensive battle.
Free throws were also a factor as Twinsburg hit 13-of-18 at the stripe while Stow was only 5-of-10 at the free throw line.
Senior leadership has led the way this year for the Tigers.
One of those senior standouts, guard Cooper Rea, helped lead Twinsburg at Stow with 10 points, including two 3-pointers.
A.J. Edwards, a 6-foot-6 senior forward, scored 10 points and pulled down six rebounds.
Point guard Jalen Washington had a strong floor game and finished with nine points.
Coach Bob Pacsi also got huge contributions from athletic junior guard Tallin Johnson. Johnson had nine points while sophomore guard Shane Farmer added seven points in a strong effort.
Junior forward-guard Sean Marable (four points) and junior forward Marcus Wallace (two) also played strong defense and helped on the glass.
"It was a typical Stow-Twinsburg game with strong defense," said Pacsi.
Stow was led by forward Matt Beech and his 21 points and Jacob Williams, who had 12.
Half of Stow's field goals were from beyond the three-point arc. Both Williams and Beech canned three triples.
"It's been a good years for us with senior leadership being very consistent," said Pacsi. "Our younger guys have bought in and blended in, contributing to the team's success."
Twinsburg didn't get the top seed at the Copley Division I sectional-district tournament despite going 6-1 against a field with wins over some of the top teams at Copley.
After going to the district semifinals last year, Nordonia is the top seed at Copley with a 19-3 record. Twinsburg beat the Knights in the regular season as well as the first five seeds in the tourney.
The Tigers also beat third seed Hudson (18-4), fourth seed Brunswick, fifth-seed Walsh Jesuit, Cuyahoga Falls (eighth seed), and Stow (the ninth seed).
In the regular season, the Tigers' only loss from the Copley field was to NOC River champion Hudson. The Tigers split with the Explorers.
"I think you have to appreciate how well we played this year when you look at our schedule and the success we had against these teams," said Pacsi. "I think by us getting a No. 2 seed that we have gained respect."
Pacsi's Tigers are hopeful to challenge for a district crown for the first time since 1995. Twinsburg was a regional qualifier in 1995 and 1993, plus was the district runner up in 1991.
Copley is deep as Walsh Jesuit is also 15-7 and fourth seed Brunswick is only 12-10 against a tough schedule, but did beat powerhouse clubs like Mentor and Garfield Heights, and is the biggest team in the field.
"It's a deep and strong district, and it has been for years," said Pacsi. "I think at one point, Copley had nine years in a row with a different champ. There may be eight or nine teams that could win this.
"We're not finished yet," added Pacsi.
In fact, the Copley district had a streak once of seven different champions in as many seasons.
Firestone (13-9) is a seventh seed while sixth-seed Medina is the defending champion at Copley over Firestone. Medina is 12-10 as is Falls, which took Firestone to three overtimes in last year's thrilling Copley sectional final.
Stow reached the district semifinals last year and is seeded ninth, just ahead of Medina Highland (13-9), a club that took Nordonia down to a one-point loss.
Even Wadsworth (12-10), the 11th seed, took district champ Medina to the final possession in a first round game last year at Copley.
Twinsburg received a first round bye and will play in a sectional final at Copley on March 2 at 7:30 p.m.
The Tigers will play the first round winner between Firestone and Stow, as final results of the Feb. 27 first round game were not available as of this writing. The Copley District semis are set for March 7 at 7 p.m.
Firestone is dangerous with bookend forwards in 6-foot-4, 210-pound Jerome Lane (23.6 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks) and 6-4 Kevin Gladney (18.2 points, 7.1 boards, and 1.5 blocks).
"We're looking forward to the challenge and we will go week by week, approaching it as a mini four-team tournament to start," said the coach.
"I don't have a preference of who we play," added Pacsi. Stow and Firestone are very different and it could come down to who executes and who is disciplined."
Pacsi's senior class of Edwards, Rea, and Washington willed their way to a 54-52 home win over Archbishop Hoban on Senior Night on Feb. 19.
It was another great test for Twinsburg as Hoban (17-5) had a 3-point bomb bounce off of the rim as time expired.
Edwards exploded for 19 points, 15 rebounds and four blocked shots. In addition, he handed out three assists and had two steals. Edwards and Rea both made two free throws in the final minute of the win.
Johnson put in 12 points for Twinsburg while Rea popped in 10.
Washington was outstanding with nine points, five rebounds, four assists and four steals. Marable added four points and five rebounds.
"The Hoban game came at the right time after a tough loss to Hudson, but the guys responded," said Pacsi. "We made sure we made the extra pass in the fourth quarter."
Forward Jaelen Hollinger led Hoban with 14 points, seven rebounds and four steals. Saadiq Muhammad added 10 points.