by Michael Leonard | Sports Editor
Stow -- The matchup between the Mogadore Field and Tallmadge boys basketball team Feb. 25 in a Division II sectional playoff featured two teams in need of a boost heading into the postseason.
If you wanted a contest that was a tale of two halves, this was it.
Sparked by junior guard Austin Sparks, the Falcons took a 24-18 lead at halftime. However, Tallmadge roared back, outscoring Field 34-16 in the second half to score a 52-40 win.
The Blue Devils improved to 7-16 and advanced to face Akron Buchtel in the Division I sectional final March 1 at Stow.
The Falcons finished the season at 6-17.
Field head coach Jon Lane said Sparks' early eruption was not unexpected. Sparks scored 16 of his game-high 24 points in the first half.
"He's had some 20-point games for us," Lane said. "We told him at halftime that they were going to concentrate on him. We weren't getting a lot of support knocking down shots."
Meanwhile, Tallmadge head coach Aaron Hinkle said his team looked a step slow early on.
"I think we were a little out of sync," Hinkle said. "You've got to give Field credit for hitting some shots. Once we started to give some better defensive effort, our offense started to pick up."
Outside of Starks' big half, no one was hitting buckets consistently early. The Falcons made a concerted effort to deny the Blue Devils the lane, which resulted in several charging calls.
Tallmadge was not careful with the ball, either, as turnovers were common from both sides.
The game was tied at eight after one quarter when Sparks ignited an 11-0 run to give Field a 21-14 lead with about two minutes to go in the half.
The Blue Devils fought back a bit, but Sparks hit a fallaway three-pointer as the first half ended, giving the Falcons the six-point halftime lead.
After the break, however, Tallmadge's inside presence started to show, particularly from sophomore forward Andrew Francesconi.
"We had it planned to double team [Francesconi] in the first half when he got the ball low," Lane said. "We did a good job in the first half. The game got a little physical in the second half and we were swatting at balls when just keeping our hands up would have been good,"
Fouls became a bigger issues as the game went on for Field.
The Blue Devils took the lead back with a 13-1 run to make it 32-28 as Tallmadge did much of its damage at the foul line.
Francesconi finished the game 7-of-13 from line, nearly equalling the Falcons free-throw output (9-of-15) on his own.
"He's usually an 85-percent free throw shooter, so I wasn't concerned with the fouls," Hinkle said.
The Blue Devils took the lead until 2.3 seconds left in the third quarter, when Sparks was fouled while shooting a three-pointer.
Sparks nailed 2-of-3 free throws, tying the game at 32 after three periods.
The fourth quarter was all Tallmadge.
Francesconi hit an old-school three-point play to key the decisive run for the Blue Devils. He finished with 15 points and nine rebounds.
Tallmadge was fouled on its first three offensive possessions in the quarter and finished the game 18-of-25 from the line.
Field started to buckle a bit when forward Macklin Coleman fouled out with about four minutes left.
"You could tell in the final minutes that we were missing something," Lane said. "He is our inside presence."
The Falcons attempted to got to a full-court press in the game's final minutes, but the Blue Devils broke it easily, leading to several run out layups.
A steal and bucket from guard Nate Bickar in the last minute put the icing on the cake for Tallmadge.
Bickar finished with nine points as the Blue Devils outscored Field 20-8 in the final quarter.
Host Tallmadge finished 2-12 in the Suburban League after losing a 61-48 decision to Cloverleaf Feb. 22. The Colts outscored the Blue Devils 31-15 in the middle two quarters.