The Garaway Pirates spent nearly the entire game of their Inter-Valley Conference Showcase contest with East Canton trying to climb an enormous hill on Saturday, Feb. 17. When the Pirates finally got to the top, each time they tried to enjoy the fruits of a downhill ride, the Hornets ended up pushing them back down the other side. Just like Jack and Jill, the Pirates ultimately ended up taking a tumble, and a nice late run by the Hornets allowed East Canton to leave Claymont High School with a 72-59 victory.
“They’ve got great length, and that was a concern,” Garaway head coach Terry Rowe said. “But we didn’t attack with passion the way we should have the first 18 minutes. The second half we played with a little more passion, but we had put ourselves in such a big hole early. It made it tough.”
East Canton head coach Kyle McBride said the surging Hornets are peaking at the right time following a sluggish start to the year. He also said this is a year of firsts for this group of Hornets.
“These guys have not beaten Garaway, ever,” McBride said. “Our mantra this year has been ‘can we do a lot of firsts.’”
East Canton beat Sandy Valley, took Hiland to the brink and then nearly knocked off Strasburg recently, and they have been playing at a high level the second half of the year.
“We kind of took that Strasburg game to heart,” McBride said. “I think our guys are starting to realize that maybe we are even a little bit better than we know. Our guys are starting to realize their identity.”
Josh Donaldson’s three-ball gave the Pirates a short-lived 3-2 lead. Then East Canton went to work, utilizing its size inside and an astute shooting performance from deep to push out to an 11-6 lead. Ethan Roden scored inside, and then the Hornets got a 3-pointer from Mitch Mitchell and two more from Anthony Baad. East Canton was ahead 20-8. Corey Troyer’s jumper allowed Garaway to trim the lead in half at the end of one quarter.
Malik Shaffer heated up, hitting two early second-quarter 3-pointers, and Erik Miller added another trey, but East Canton kept the pressure up as it did damage in the paint with Baad leading the way.
Garaway approached the apex of the hill late in the second period when Donaldson canned a triple and Miller scored inside from a sizzling assist from Troyer.
But just like Jack and Jill, the Pirates took a tumble after getting shoved hard by the Hornets. Dallas Muldovan scored inside, and Mitchell hit a three-ball and a layup. East Canton took a 38-26 lead into the locker room.
That large lead lasted less than two minutes as Garaway stormed out of the locker room. Donaldson and Miller both drilled 3-pointers, and Karson Schrock scored on a put-back. Garaway was quickly within 38-34. The two teams battled back and forth until Donaldson delivered on yet another three. The Pirates had again inched to within the top of the hill, trailing 47-45. When Erik Miller dropped in a triple, Garaway found the other side of the hill, leading 48-47 late in the third quarter, but they would not find solace there.
“It would have been interesting if we had hit a couple of shots there after getting the lead to put some pressure on them for a change,” Rowe said. “In the flow of a game like that, it felt like we were one or two scores away from changing the flow of that game. But we just couldn’t get that done, and to their credit, they earned it. They have some really good athletes, and Baad is one of the best post players we have faced all year.”
Joey Knopp hit two free throws to put East Canton back on top, and East Canton got a pair of scores inside from Baad to go back on top 53-48. Donaldson came through again, hitting another trey, but Trey Mallon and Damian Clark scored inside to bolster the Hornets’ lead to 57-51.
Again the Pirates clawed their way back toward the top of the hill as Shaffer and Donaldson both nailed 3-pointers to draw even at 57. However, the Hornets were about to give their biggest shove of the night to send the Pirates sprawling, going on a 15-2 run to end the game, led by Baad and Knopp.
While the Pirates were strong from downtown, knocking down 14 three-pointers, East Canton’s impressive size inside eliminated one of the Pirates’ biggest strengths in Roden. The junior has been stellar all season, an inside presence who plays above his 6-foot, 2-inch frame, thanks to great strength.
East Canton’s bigs took him out of the equation for the most part.
“They are strong inside,” Rowe said of the Hornets. “They are a lot to deal with in the paint, and they are coming into their own right now. Against a team like that, you have to play 32 full minutes, and we didn’t do that.”
McBride said he and his team have so much respect for the Pirates and their program, and he even drew a parallel to his team’s season and Garaway’s effort last year when the Pirates caught fire late and played their way into a regional berth.
“I think we’re kind of having the same season Garaway had last year,” McBride said. “They were slow to start, and then they just kind of road a wave of effort and energy throughout the rest of the year, so hopefully we can keep this thing going.”
Baad scored 23, Mitchell knocked down 20 and Knopp tacked on 13 for East Canton (13-7). Donaldson paced the Pirates (15-6) with 20, Miller scored 16 and Shaffer added a dozen.