Elyria Catholic's Cory Strasko hits buzzer-beater to stun Lakewood Rangers

MORNING JOURNAL/SAM GREENE Panthers guard Cory Strasko (10) cuts back away from the basket during the third quarter in the game between the Elyria Catholic High School Panthers and the Lakewood High School Rangers at Elyria Catholic High School in Elyria, Ohio, on Friday, Feb. 8, 2013.

MORNING JOURNAL/SAM GREENE Panthers guard Daniel Whitacre (22) brings down a rebound during the second quarter in the game between the Elyria Catholic High School Panthers and the Lakewood High School Rangers at Elyria Catholic High School in Elyria, Ohio, on Friday, Feb. 8, 2013.

morning journal/sam greene Elyria Catholic’s Xavier Bennett, left, takes a shot in the third quarter against Elyria Catholic on Friday.

Elyria Catholic’s John Stursa, right, shoots a jump shot under the basket during the third quarter against Lakewood at Elyria Catholic on Friday. MORNING JOURNAL/SAM GREENE

ELYRIA — It’s going to be awhile before Lakewood forgets about Cory Strasko. In fact, he’s probably going to haunt its nightmares for the next few weeks, if not longer.

Friday night Strasko turned what looked to be a tremendous comeback by the Rangers into a heartbreaking buzzer-beating 47-46 loss.

Trailing Lakewood by one with just seconds left to play, the Panthers brought the ball down the court and got the shot they wanted from senior Tyler Riddell in the corner. Riddell’s shot clanged off the back of the rim, though, and ricochetted into the key where Strasko was waiting with open arms.

The senior didn’t hesitate as he fired off the putback which ripped the net and sent the home crowd into a frenzy with the clock showing just three seconds remaining.

The Rangers called a timeout, but they were unable to move the ball up court cleanly on the ensuing possesion and turned it over as time expired.

“It’s a great win,” Elyria Catholic coach Jason Smith said. “Luckily we had a few timeouts and were able to setup our press. I thought our guys did a great job putting pressure on them.”

Daniel Whitacre led the Panthers in scoring with 13 points, and was the main cog in the Panthers’ offense for the first three quarters. Strasko and Tyler Riddell chipped in 11 and 10, respectively, both coming up huge in the final moments.

For the first three quarters, the Panthers seemed to be in control of the game, but they just weren’t able to pull away from Lakewood. Then, heading into the fourth quarter with the two teams tied at 31, the Rangers’ Alex Donahoe caught fire.

“Late in the game, Lakewood started hitting their 3s. We knew they would do that,” Smith said. “They’re a great shooting team. (Donahoe) hit five threes for them, which obviously hurt us.”

Donahoe finished the game with 19 points, to lead all scorers. He was nearly unstoppable from behind the arc, as he made five of six 3-point attempts.

Donahoe’s hot shooting helped spark the Rangers’ offense, which had been pretty stagnant to that point. Suddenly, it was the Panthers’ offense that couldn’t score, and Lakewood opened up a six point lead at 44-38 with just 1:39 left in the game.

Smith made sure his team didn’t panic.

“I told the guys to just keep playing our game,” Smith said. “We switched things up and began face guarding (Donahoe). I don’t think he made anything but one layup off a deep pass after that.”

With their top scorer held in check and the Panther defense putting pressure on them, the Rangers offense began to crumble.

With time running short, Elyria Catholic had no choice but to start fouling. Unfortunately for the Rangers, they weren’t able to cash in. Lakewood finished the game hitting just 9 of its 20 free throw attempts, including going 1-for-6 down the final stretch.

“It all came down to Lakewood missing a few free throws at the end,” Smith said. “If they made those, we wouldn’t have had a chance.”

With the score at 44-40 and less than 30 seconds left on the clock, Riddell hit a 3 from the corner to cut the lead to one with just 26.3 seconds left.

Lakewood’s Shawn McDonald then missed two free throws, which set up Strasko’s game-winning heroics at the other end.

Smith feels the win came at just the right time, and could really help his team make a run in the upcoming tournament.

“We’ve been peaking here for awhile,” he said. “We slipped a little against Avon and Rocky River, but tonight our offense looked so much better. This is massive for us. It gives us so much momentum going into the seeding meeting this weekend.”

@MJ_smahoney

Last Updated: 2/9/2013 12:24:16 PM EST

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