By DAVE HANNEMAN
Victory seemed there for the taking when Findlay High and Toledo St. John’s squared off Tuesday night.
So Findlay went out and took it.
A.J. Adams’ steal and slam gave Findlay the lead and Max Roth’s layup off a game-clinching steal in the final seconds wrapped it up as Findlay edged St. John’s 49-46 in a Three Rivers Athletic Conference boys basketball battle at the FHS Gymnasium.
“It wasn’t pretty, and if they had won I’m sure Mike (St. John’s coach Mike Schoen) would say the same thing,” said Findlay High coach Jim Rucki.
“If you’d have lost this game, there’s a lot of things you’d be looking at you’d want back. But right now, we needed that win.”
Findlay was coming off close losses to two state-ranked teams — Lima Senior (No. 8, Division I) and Ottawa-Glandorf (No. 3, Division III). Tuesday’s win avenged a beatdown, 54-36 loss at St. John’s in early December and upped Findlay’s record to 8-4 overall, 5-3 in the TRAC.
St. John’s, which had won three straight and five of six entering Tuesday’s matchup, fell to 7-4, 5-2 in the TRAC.
“We made some mistakes, but we also made some plays so this was a great learning experience for our young team,” Schoen said.
“We’re learning by trial and fire with these guys. I was proud of their effort. We kept telling them to keep fighting and hopefully something will go your way. A couple of things did, but then (Findlay) made a couple of plays that were difference makers.”
In the final three minutes of the game, there were times when first St. John’s, then Findlay, then St. John’s again appeared to have victory within its grasp.
Rarely has victory been so elusive, though.
Findlay led by five points most of the third quarter and by four (33-29) when it was over.
That lead disappeared in a hurry.
C.J. Hornbeak, a 6-foot-1 freshman guard who led St. John’s with 15 points, scored one basket after Findlay was called for a charging foul, and another when the Trojans lost the ball on a turnover.
It was still tied 36-36 when Brock Makrancy and Hornbeak traded 3-pointers, 38-38 when Adams scored on a drive and Thomas Zsiros on a steal, 40-40 when Adams and Sam Swift traded baskets, and 42-42 when Chris Strzempka scored off a nice assist from Isaiah Moore and the Titans’ Gary Batch answered with two free throws on the other end.
Findlay’s fourth turnover of the fourth quarter opened the door for Batch to score and put St. John’s up 44-42 with two minutes left.
St. John’s still led 44-43 when Adams made the first free throw but could not connect on the second with 1:11 on the clock. As St. John’s worked the ball up court, though, Adams anticipated the pass, lunged and tipped it ahead, and went in for the slam that put Findlay back in front 45-44 with 58 seconds left.
“There was about 1:30 left, it was a close game, so I knew I had to try and make a play,” Adams said.
“Their guy was trapped on the wing. I saw an opportunity to steal the ball, so I was like, I might as well dunk this one.”
Adams grabbed a rebound on the other end — his 13th of the game — was fouled and made both free throws with 22 seconds on the clock. Hornbeak scored to get it to one, 47-46, with 7.4 seconds left.
Findlay basically had to inbound the ball, draw a foul and try to wrap it up at the foul line. Batch got a hand on the inbounds pass, however, and the deflection slid off Makrancy’s fingertips and out of bounds.
Findlay returned the tipped-inbounds-pass favor. With 6.2 seconds on the clock, Strzempka got a hand on St. John’s inbounds pass and swatted it toward Roth, who scooped it up and went in for the game-clinching basket.
“We were trying to make sure they weren’t getting open coming of a screen,” Roth said.
“We were pushing them back, and when I saw the ball was loose, I just got it and went.”
Adams led Findlay with a 22-point, 13-rebound double-double. The 6-4 senior also tied a Findlay High school record when he made the first of two free throws in the final seconds of the third quarter. That free throw was his 25th consecutive make, tying the record set by Kyle Nunn in 2015. The previous record of 24 had been set by Jim Rhodes during the 1966-67 season and tied by Jesse Wohl in 2007.
Balance was a huge plus for the Trojans as well, with Roth adding eight points, Moore seven and Strzempka and Makrancy six each.
St. John’s outrebounded Findlay 28-22. The Trojans turned the ball over 11 times, but five came in the fourth quarter and St. John’s capitalized on a number of them to forge one of five ties in the period.
“St. John’s is a very good defensive team, and some of our turnovers are attributable to them,” Rucki said.
“But we got some steals, too. (Moore) had active hands and did a great job of flicking the ball away. Chris (Strzempka) made a great play in flicking that ball away on that final inbounds pass … Luckily we can look (at film), get better, and still come out with a win.”
Findlay returns to action on Friday when the Trojans travel to Toledo Whitmer (4-7, 2-6 TRAC) for another TRAC contest.
TOLEDO ST. JOHN’S (7-4, 5-2 trac)
Swift 2-9 0-0 4, Zsiros 2-4 0-0 4, Batch 4-5 4-4 12, Hornbeak 7-12 0-0 15, Vaughn 2-2 0-0 4, Garcia 1-1 0-0 3, McKinstry 1-3 0-0 2, Greenlee 1-6 0-0 2. TOTALS: 20-42 4-4–46.
FINDLAY (8-4, 5-3 trac)
Strzempka 3-6 0-0 6, Moore 3-10 1-2 7, M. Roth 3-9 2-3 8, Adams 9-17 4-6 22, Makrancy 2-4 0-0 6, J. Roth 0-0 0-0 0, Weihrauch 0-0 0-0 0, Montgomery 0-0 0-0 0, Ross 0-0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 20-46 7-11–49.
Toledo St. John’s 12 7 10 17 — 46
Findlay 12 10 11 16 — 49
3-Point GOALS: Toledo St. John’s 2-14 (Swift 0-5, Zsiros 0-2, Garcia 1-1, Hornbeak 1-3, McKinstry 0-1, Greenlee 0-2); Findlay 2-6 (M. Roth 0-2, Makrancy 2-4).
rebounds: Toledo St. John’s 28 (Batch 6, McKinstry 5); Findlay 22 (Adams 13, M. Roth 3).
turnovers: Toledo St. John’s 12; Findlay 11.
JUNIOR VARSITY: Toledo St. John’s, 39-38.
FRESHMEN: Toledo St. John’s, 36-27.