By Frank Aceto | RPC
Another tournament game, another last-second thriller.
Such is life for the Tallmadge boys basketball team.
And the Blue Devils are loving every minute of it.
Tallmadge advanced to Division II district play for the first time since the 2008-09 season after posting a come-from-behind 41-39 win on Saturday over the Streetsboro Rockets at James O. Maddux Court at Tallmadge High School.
With the win, the Blue Devils earned a date with the Cleveland Central Catholic-Cleveland Benedictine winner in a district semifinal game, which is scheduled for Wednesday at Stow High School. Game time is set for 7 p.m.
"They didn't quit," said Tallmadge first-year head coach Mike Bluey, who was formerly an assistant coach at Rootstown High School under then-head coach Mike Fuline. "As a coach, you would rather not be in that situation, but the kids have been in this position before. We have kids who understand their roles and know how to maintain their composure."
The Blue Devils, who scored a 59-56 overtime win over Revere in its first sectional game earlier this week, scored the last 11 points of the game on Saturday for the win.
The Rockets scored their final points with 6:25 left when senior Devin Rencher converted a layup off the dribble.
Tallmadge (14-9), which was trailing 39-30 at the time, did the rest.
Streetsboro had five turnovers, including some costly miscues down the stretch, in the fourth quarter.
The Blue Devils took advantage and when Nate Bickar buried a 3-pointer from the left side, the game was tied at 39 with 1:10 left.
"We read the scouting report, and we knew (Bickar) was their shooter," Rockets head coach Nick Marcini said. "We gave him too much space."
Andrew Francesconi made two foul shots to make it 41-39 with 3.4 seconds left.
Tallmadge then forced a turnover and Francesconi went to the line again with 2.5 remaining.
Francesconi missed the front end of a one-and-one opportunity, but senior Daniel Sapp's heave from near the midcourt line went wide as the buzzer sounded.
"We just didn't execute down the stretch," Marcini said. "You have to be able to execute in a hostile environment like this. Tallmadge is a great place to play. They're a tough, physical Suburban League team."
While the Blue Devils scored critical baskets when it counted, they went frigid in the third quarter.
Streetsboro (15-8) took control with a 13-0 run in the second half to take a 39-30 advantage. The Rockets outscored Tallmadge 14-4 in the third period.
Francesconi led the Blue Devils with a game-high 22 points and Bickar finished with 10 points.
Senior Daniel Sapp led the Rockets with 10 points and Rencher and Paul Jenkins each added eight points for Streetsboro, which trailed 26-21 at halftime.
Despite the loss, Marcini reflected on what his team accomplished. After a two-year stay in the Portage Trail Conference Metro Division, Streetsboro returned to the County Division with a vengeance. The Rockets captured the County Division title during the regular season.
"I'm devastated and the kids are devastated, but we won our league and no one can take that away," Marcini said. "The important thing is that we're going to put a 14 on that banner. They're a great group of kids. I've never had a group of kids that I enjoyed being around this much every day in practice."
Streetsboro said good-bye to Rencher, Sapp, Jenkins and fellow senior Reggie Dublin.