by Frank Aceto
Associate Sports Editor
Tallmadge -- We've heard these things time and time again.
First game of the season.
The football players need to get in basketball shape.
Yes, many high school basketball teams have a difficult time providing such great theater since they're more concerned with getting all the kinks out.
The Tallmadge-Ellet boys basketball game Dec. 4 at Tallmadge High School's James O. Maddox Court, on the other hand, proved to be a major exception.
Was it ever.
Thanks to an amazing buzzer-beating basket, the Orangemen earned a heart-stopping 69-68 overtime victory over the Blue Devils. With the win, Ellet improved to 1-1. Tallmadge dropped to 0-1 despite rallying from an 18-point deficit.
"I told the kids that they showed heart," Blue Devils' second-year head coach Aaron Hinkle said. "They competed even though they had their backs against the wall. Most of these guys have never started a varsity game."
So what happened?
Just about everything.
After the Blue Devils' fabulous comeback to force overtime, the two teams went toe to toe in the extra period.
Tallmadge appeared to be in good shape when sophomore Andrew Francesconi, who made a stellar impression in his first varsity contest with a game-high 29 points, knocked down a couple of free throws.
Those foul shots gave the Blue Devils a 68-67 lead with 6.7 seconds left.
And then the storybook ending took place.
The Orangemen decided not to call a time-out and got the ball into the hands of Jacob Fisher, their dazzling playmaking junior point guard. Fisher went coast to coast and threw up a difficult right-handed layup in traffic right before the buzzer sounded.
The ball went straight up in the air as the red light flashed before falling harmlessly into the hoop for the game-winning bucket.
"We didn't want to use a time-out and let them [the Blue Devils] get their defense set," said Ellet head coach Mark Fisher, who is Jacob's father. "We practiced that and I was glad the shot went in."
While they committed their share of turnovers, both teams looked like they were in midseason form throughout the evening.
Tallmadge, which had no returning starters dressed for varsity, had to play catchup for most of the game.
The Orangemen, thanks to their precise shooting, built a 31-19 advantage midway through the second quarter.
To the pleasure of their home fans, the Blue Devils didn't flinch.
Tallmadge quickly got back in the game with a 10-1 spurt. But Fisher made sure Ellet got the final say when he drained a three-pointer for the final points of the half. The Orangemen led 35-29 at halftime.
And then, just like that, the Blue Devils' wheels started to fall off.
Ellet scored the first 10 points of the third quarter and eventually built its lead to 18 (50-32) when senior forward Cody Martin drained a three with 3:37 left in the period.
Tallmadge slowly got back in the game and forced overtime when Francesconi converted a short jumper on a drive to the basket with less than 10 seconds left. Francesconi's basket tied the game at 61 after four quarters of play. Francesconi scored 23 points after halftime.
"In the fourth quarter, we basically said, 'Get the ball to Andrew and everybody else -- get out of the way,'" Hinkle said. "He was one of our top players last year before he got hurt."
Junior post player Damon Gidley was the only other Blue Devils' player in double digits with 11 points. Senior guard Bryon Cook added eight points.
A total of seven players scored at least one point for Tallmadge.
The Orangemen had a bit more balance.
Six Ellet players scored at least four points and four players reached double figures. Fisher and junior guard Dionte Williams each led the way with 15 points and senior forward Dakota Johnston-Nicholl added 14 points. Senior guard Christian Bolling added 12 points off the bench for the Orangemen.
"We did a lot of good things and we did a lot of things wrong," Hinkle said. "But we made some plays down the stretch. These kids are going to get better and better. Give Ellet credit. That kid made a big shot."
The Blue Devils were scheduled to make their Suburban League debut against Revere Dec. 7 in Richfield. Results were not available at press time. They are set to host league rival Copley Dec. 11 and Highland Dec. 14. Both varsity contests are scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m.