Tallmadge boys hoops team reaches district play

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by Frank Aceto | Associate Sports Editor

Tallmadge -- 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.

The Division II sectional title contest took place March 1 at James O. Maddox Court.

"They didn't quit," Blue Devils' first-year head coach Mike Bluey said. "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."

Tallmadge, which also scored a 59-56 overtime win over Revere in its first sectional game Feb. 26, scored the last 11 points of the game.

The Rockets scored their final points with 6 minutes, 25 seconds left when senior Devin Rencher converted a layup off the dribble.

The Blue Devils, who were trailing 39-30 at the time, did the rest.

Streetsboro had five turnovers, including some costly miscues down the stretch, in the fourth quarter.

Tallmadge took advantage and when Nate Bickar buried a 3-pointer from the left side, the game was tied at 39 with 1:10 left.

"The play was called skip," Bickar said. "Joseph [Vassalotti] set a screen and Colten made a good pass."

Andrew Francesconi made two foul shots to make it 41-39 with 3.4 seconds left.

The Blue Devils 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," Rockets head coach Nick 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 Tallmadge scored critical baskets when it counted, it 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.

"All year long, we've been in close games," Francesconi said. "It's a great feeling."

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.

"They are very talented," Bluey said of the Rockets. "Our guys put themselves in a position to win and didn't try to make a five-point basket."

Tallmadge prevailed despite not having the services of point guard Justin Cambria.

"Justin has been playing with a broken nose," Bluey said. "He recently got popped really good in practice and we didn't want to take any chances.

"To his credit, Cole Baker stepped in. He hasn't played a lot of minutes since early in the season."

Like any team, the Blue Devils have had their share of ups and downs. But after two last-second thrillers, Tallmadge was riding high.

"I can't be happier for our guys," Bluey said. "We had three good practices coming into this game. I'm so proud of them."

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