By ANDY WOLF
NORWALK — Western Reserve coach Chris Sheldon expressed in a postgame interview how Upper Sandusky had at least 17 pounds on four of his players.
The Rams used that physical edge to outmuscle the Roughriders 23-7 in the third quarter for a commanding 49-31 lead en route to a 66-53 victory in Wednesday’s Division III district boys semifinal at Norwalk High School.
“I know everyone is going to look in the box score and see we get outscored by (16) points in the third quarter,” Sheldon said. “The bottom line is, they had us outweighed at four of the five positions by 17 to 20-plus pounds of muscle.
“Their muscle took over in the third quarter.”
In the opener, Willard led wire-to-wire before finishing off Carey 69-54.
The Rams (19-5) and the Crimson Flashes (21-3) will meet in the district final at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Norwalk High School.
Upper Sandusky defeated Willard 83-59 on the road in the season opener for both teams.
Rams coach Jeff Winslow knows the Crimson Flashes, who have won 16 straight, are a much different team since their 5-3 start.
“They’ve got good size; (Cooper) Parrott is a really good player,” Winslow said. “Hopefully we can get the pace going up and down the floor.”
That’s exactly how the Rams got it done on Wednesday night. Upper Sandusky took a 26-24 lead into halftime as Trevor Clifford found Cole Sowers for an easy score in the final seconds.
The Rams blew an otherwise close game open in a hurry with a 17-2 run to start the third quarter.
“We came out of the break and really responded defensively,” Winslow said. “We got some turnover layups and things like that and when you do that, it gets everything going offensively.”
Upper’s leading scorer Mason Vent, who averaged 17.9 points in the regular season, went scoreless in the first half but scored on a putback and off his own steal in the opening seconds of the third quarter.
He finished with six points as the Roughriders spent extra attention in limiting his production.
“Mason was unselfish all night long; he was a big part of that run,” Winslow said.
Evan Young kept it going in transition and caught an entry pass from halfcourt for an inside finish, prompting Sheldon to take a timeout just 1:43 into the third.
Clifford scored 11 of his 23 points in the third quarter while totaling seven rebounds and three steals.
“He does a little bit of everything but he’s so strong,” Winslow said. “We told him, whether it’s a man or a zone, you’ve got the ball inside the paint because we didn’t think physically they could match up with him.”
Upper point guard Cameron McCreary added 23 points, including a coast-to-coast steal and a 3-pointer to cap the run.
The Rams led 49-31 heading into the fourth quarter and closed it out by going 15 of 21 at the foul line in the frame.
“We just did a much better job of making them play fast both ways,” Winslow said. “They couldn’t just walk it up and run a set or whatever. Their threes were a little more rushed and not quite as comfortable.”
In the first game, Willard used an 8-0 run in just a span over a minute to break open a 7-7 tie.
The spurt proved to be the only run in the game greater than five points and also the last tie in the game.
“It just wasn’t our night,” Carey coach Jamie Young said. “(Willard coach) Joe (Bedingfield) has got them playing really well.
“We didn’t come out the way we needed to in the beginning of the game; we were a little flat. I’m just proud we came out in the second half with more energy.”
Hayden Stone had 19 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Blue Devils.
Carey played catch-up for the final three quarters but never got over the hump.
The Blue Devils trailed 29-22 at halftime but cut it to 30-27 after a 3-ball and two free throws by Griffin Summit to start the third.
Summit scored 12 of his 16 points in the third quarter and also took two emphatic charges on back-to-back Willard possessions.
However, Carey couldn’t capitalize off either while trailing only 40-38.
Brevon Polachek took a steal the distance in the final seconds of the third quarter and the Crimson Flashes led 42-38. A 3-pointer by Carey’s Cade Crawford and a jumper by Jordan Dasher each kept the deficit at three points early in the fourth.
The Blue Devils wouldn’t come any closer.
Willard scored the final eight points in the last 1:08 to seal it.
“We were a good team,” Young said of the season. “We played solid. We had ups and downs.
“All in all I think we had a successful season. I think we could’ve won a few more games and been a little bit better, but we didn’t make shots. Our free throw percentage was bad.”
Davon Triplett’s 24 points and eight rebounds led the Crimson Flashes while Cooper Parrott chilled in 18 points.
Willard made 22 field goals in 52 attempts and 22 free throws in 29 attempts.
Stone 8-3–19, Hoepf 0-2–2, Cad. Crawford 3-1–8, Summit 6-2–16, Dasher 2-2–6, Cas. Crawford 1-0–3. TOTALS: 20-54 10-18–54.
Polachek 3-7–14, Baldridge 3-2–8, Pinkston 1-1–3, Triplett 8-7–23, Parrott 6-4–18, Holida 1-1–3. TOTALS: 22-52 22-29–69.
Carey 9 13 16 16 — 54
Willard 15 14 13 27 — 69
3-POINT GOALS: Carey 3-13 (Summit 2, Cas. Crawford 1); Willard 3-8 (Parrott 2, Polachek).
REBOUNDING: Carey 36 (Stone 11); Willard 36 (Pinkston 8).
TURNOVERS: Carey 10; Willard 11.
UPPER SANDUSKY (19-5)
McCreary 8-6–23, Clifford 10-3–23, Vent 2-2–6, Young 3-3–10, Holly 0-2–2, Sowers 1-0–2. TOTALS: 24-42 16-22 — 66.
WESTERN RESERVE (17-4)
Weisenberger 1-0–2, Skrada 4-2–12, Markley 3-1–10, Rowlinson 2-3–9, Huntington 4-0–8, Hipp 3-1–7, Muenz 2-0–5. TOTALS: 19-43 7-12 — 53.
Upper Sandusky 15 11 23 17 — 66
Western Reserve 15 9 7 22 — 53
3-POINT GOALS: Upper Sandusky 2-9 (McCreary & Young); Western Reserve 8-20 (Markley 3, Skrada & Rowlinson 2, Muenz).
REBOUNDING: Upper Sandusky 31 (Clifford 7); Western Reserve 16 (Skrada 5).
TURNOVERS: Upper Sandusky 8; Western Reserve 12.