By DAVE HANNEMAN
Findlay High’s boys basketball team rang in the new year on Friday.
And the Trojans brought a bit of the old one with them.
A.J. Adams and Max Roth scored 20 points each, Findlay rebounded from a slow start with a dominating second half, and the Trojans, who ended 2019 with four consecutive wins, opened 2020 with their fifth straight, a 70-50 victory over Toledo St. Francis in a Three Rivers Athletic Conference game at the FHS Gymnasium.
“We preach that a lot of teams get worse over Christmas vacation. I thought we got better,” said Findlay High coach Jim Rucki after the Trojans improved to 7-2 overall and 4-2 in the TRAC.
“We had solid practices, we’re playing hard, the guys are playing together and the chemistry is good. I feel we made progress, and I knew tonight would be a test of that.”
Toledo St. Francis, which has risen steadily in the TRAC rankings under eighth-year head coach Travis Lewis, started the season 4-0 and was tied with Toledo St. John’s for second place in the standings. The Knights (5-4, 3-2 TRAC) also feature one of the tallest teams in the league, with four players standings 6-foot-7 or taller.
Three of those players — 6-9 junior Cliron Hornbeak, 6-7 senior Ethan Plesac and 6-7 sophomore Martin Beredo — never saw the floor, though. And when the Knights cooled off from the outside after a sizzling first quarter, Findlay caught, passed and pulled away from the Knights.
“They didn’t play a couple of guys, I don’t know, for some reason,” Rucki said.
“They might not have had their A-plus lineup, but we can’t worry about that. All we can worry about is ourselves, and I thought our guys competed hard and executed well, especially in the second half.”
St. Francis complements its size with the 3-point shooting of senior wing Sebastian McClellan and junior guard Fiesal Crumby. With Roth and Isaiah Moore hounding those two in a triangle-and-two defensive set, Findlay held the two sharpshooters to one triple the entire first quarter.
“We had to go small, not because we wanted to but because we had to,” Lewis said.
“We have the injury bug and some other things going on. We need to get guys healthy.”
The Knights’ arsenal was deeper than it seemed, though.
Dayven Kizer nailed a 3 to put St. Francis up 8-2 early in the game and Eyalie Kouakou popped off the bench and popped in two straights 3’s, giving St. Francis leads of 13-8 and 16-11.
“Those two guys (McClellan and Crumby) shoot a lot of 3’s and we thought we’d try some different things,” Rucki said. “Then Kizer hits a 3 and No. 3 (Kouakou) hits two in a row … It gets you out of that stuff pretty quick.”
Findlay’s switching man-to-man, zone-trap and pressing defensive pressure took its toll, though, forcing eight St. Francis turnovers in the second quarter.
Findlay opened the second quarter with a 5-0 run that was the direct result of offensive rebounds by Sam Weihrauch and Adams, and ended the period with a 6-0 burst capped by Moore’s steal and layup to go up 26-21 at the half.
Roth nailed two 3-pointers and scored eight points, Brock Makrancy added a 3 and scored seven as Findlay nudged its lead to 10 — 45-35 — after three periods.
Adams scored inside to start a 12-3 fourth-quarter run and ended it with a baseline drive for a dunk. Findlay spread the floor with the lead and Moore used his quickness off the dribble to drive for back-to-back scores that put the Trojans up 53-37.
“That’s the best aspect of my game,” said Moore, the lone senior starter in the Trojans’ lineup. “They were giving me that opportunity so I took it.”
Moore finished with 10 points. Makrancy had nine — including four free throws. Weihrauch scored all seven of his points in the fourth quarter.
Adams completed a double-double by grabbing 13 rebounds.
Crumby led St. Francis with 12 points. After making 4 of 8 3-pointers in the first quarter, the Knights connected on just 2 of 12 in the second and third periods and 9 of 31 for the game. St. Francis also committed 13 of its 17 total turnovers in the first half.
“We have a lot of juniors, so we knew this season was going to have some ebbs and flows,” Lewis said.
“We knew there was going to be some ups, going to be some downs and going to be everything in between. It’s going to be a growing process because we have a whole new cast of characters. They’re learning, I’m learning, we’re learning together. Our goal, really, is to find a way to be good in March.”
Rucki and the Trojans aren’t looking that far ahead, not with what looms on the horizon.
On Friday, the Trojans travel to Lima Senior to face the TRAC-leading Spartans. Next Saturday Findlay will host unbeaten Ottawa-Glandorf in the Route 224 Rivalry.
“It’s going to be a challenging month of January,” Rucki said.
“It’s not going to get any easier, but this helps. To start it off with a solid win against a pretty good team is a great way to get it going, and we had a nice crowd here to see it. That kind of support creates a great atmosphere for our players. I’m glad we didn’t let them down.”
In Friday’s preliminary game, Caleb Mueller scored 20 points, Jake Bishop scored nine of his 12 points in the final two minutes, and Terrion Ross added 10 points as Findlay (6-3, 3-3) edged St. Francis (7-3, 3-2) 52-44 in the junior varsity contest.
TOLEDO ST. FRANCIS (4-3, 3-2 TRAC)
Craig 2-7 0-0 4, Kizer 3-7 0-0 7, McClellan 1-7 0-0 3, Crumby 3-14 3-4 12, Mays 4-8 0-0 8, Kouakou 2-4 0-0 6, King 0-0 0-0 0, Furlan 0-3 0-0 0, Ball 1-3 0-0 2, Meyer 3-5 0-1 8. TOTALS: 19-58 3-5–50.
FINDLAY (7-2, 4-2 TRAC)
Strzempka 0-0 0-0 0, Moore 4-9 2-4 10, M. Roth 7-15 2-2 20, Adams 8-13 4-4 20, Makrancy 2-5 4-4 9, J. Roth 0-0 4-4 4, Weihrauch 1-2 5-7 7, Montgomery 0-0 0-0 0, Ross 0-0 0-0 0, Johnson 0-0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 22-44 21-24–70.
Toledo St. Francis 16 5 14 15 — 50
Findlay 13 13 19 25 — 70
3-Point GOALS: Toledo St. Francis 9-31 (Craig 0-1, Kouakou 2-3, Kizer 1-3, McClellan 1-7, Crumby 3-12, Furlan 0-1, Ball 0-1, Meyer 2-3); Findlay 5-13 (M. Roth 4-8, Moore 0-1, Makrancy 1-4).
rebounds: Toledo St. Francis 31 (Crumby 9); Findlay 32 (Adams 13, Weihrauch 5, Strzempka 4).
turnovers: Toledo St. Francis 17; Findlay 14.
JUNIOR VARSITY: Findlay, 52-44.
FRESHMEN: Toledo St. Francis, 48-27.