BERLIN CENTER, Ohio (WKBN) – The Mineral Ridge Rams utilized clutch field goals and free-throw shooting to push past the Western Reserve Blue Devils 62-56 to win a key Mahoning Valley Athletic Conference contest. The win improves the Rams to 3-1 in the league and 4-1 on the season. The Blue Devils fall to 4-3, 1-2 in the league.
“It’s big. League games are important,” Rams coach Gary Pugh said of the win. “I want to win the league so to win it you have to win these games. If you can go on the road and win, that’s even better.”
“This is our third loss and this has been three games where it has happened where we either have been tied or we have been down and have come back,” Daltorio remarked about the Devils three close losses. “We have been right where we wanted to be in the fourth quarter and we just have to break through that threshold and get over the hump. Just continue to fight to win games.”
Junior guard Miles Culp would score a game-high 21 points, including 3 treys and 5 rebounds to lead the Rams. Jalen Royal-Eiland scored 16 points and was a perfect 6 of 6 from the charity stripe in the game. Austin Governor would add 15 points and grab 6 rebounds to lead the Rams on the boards.
“It was insane,” Culp said of Governor’s three at the buzzer. “That was unbelievable. I was going nuts, the whole gym was going nuts.”
The Rams trailed early in the contest as the Blue Devils jumped out to a 10-5 lead at the 4:03 mark of the first quarter. But the Rams would close the frame on a 13-4 run in part due to an Austin Governor three-quarter court shot at the buzzer that rattled into the basket.
The Rams would go up by a game-high 10-points at 28-18 with 2:56 remaining in the first half at the conclusion of a 10-4 run. They would hold a 37-28 lead at the halftime break.
But the Blue Devils came out to start the second half with an 8-0 run to cut the deficit down to a single point at 37-36 with 4:50 left in the third quarter. The Rams would finish the period with a 10-2 run, including a three by Maurice Clark with just one minute left in the stanza. That gave the Rams a 47-38 lead at the end of the quarter.
“Halftime we kind of talked about what we wanted to do defensively with those guys and it started with stops, and then cashing in on the other end,” Blue Devils coach Pat Daltorio said. “We did a nice job starting that third quarter with working the ball inside, moving the ball really well and we got ourselves right where we needed to be.”
The Blue Devils would once again go on a run to start the fourth quarter as they went on a 9-2 run to make it 49-47 with 4:35 remaining in the game. Following a basket by Preston Reed with 2:12 left in the game, the Devils trailed by a single point at 53-52 and all the momentum. But the Rams would convert on 9 of 10 free throws from that point to seal the game.
“To be honest, free throws are kind of a pet peeve of mine,” Pugh said. “Those will win and lose games for you. We practice them every day. Three, four different breaks in the practice we’ll shoot free throws. We can’t get off the floor at the end (of practice) unless we make our foul shots. They are critical, critical shots. You have to make them.”
“It helps so much,” Culp said of the practice routine. “I’m so much better from last year to this year. It’s crucial at the end of the game. You have to knock down free throws to win the close games.”
The Blue Devils were led by Ryan Gordon with 17 points in the game while Reed scored 12 points with 5 rebounds and Todd Henning scored 11 points. Noah Klasic led the Devils with 7 rebounds on the night and Jake Pappagallo added 5.
The Rams will take a break as they will not play again until next Friday when they travel to Garrettsville Garfield. The Blue Devils will also be in action next Friday when they play East Canton in the Crestview Holiday Tournament.