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It was not easy, but at this stage of the season, it is all about surviving and moving on.
And that is just what Malvern did when it hosted Buckeye Trail in a Division IV boys sectional basketball final.
The Hornets were seeded fourth, while the Warriors grabbed the fifth seed. Close on paper, the two teams were even closer when they met with a district berth on the line.
Malvern was able to wear down Buckeye Trail, outscoring the visitors 20-10 over the final eight minutes of play, posting an 81-70 decision.
"I was really proud of the guys tonight," stated Head Coach Dennis Tucci. "We had great attitudes and we stayed focus on the task at hand. We haven't been good at facing adversity this year, but tonight we handled it like champions. These kids are really battling out there. It was such a fast-paced game. We knew they were quick, but they shot it a lot better than we thought."
Both squads came out on fire, with the Hornets taking a 23-18 advantage after the opening stanza. The Warriors battled back in the second frame to lead 42-41 entering halftime.
The two teams played evenly for most of the third quarter, with Malvern leading by one entering the final quarter, 61-60.
Mark Mayle was a dominant force inside the paint. The junior tallied 26 points to lead all scorers, and pulled down 23 rebounds.
Majestic had 13 points, eight rebounds, three assists and three steals; Brandon Patterson had 12 points and three boards; Drew Hutchison had 12 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds; Jake Moser had eight points; and Christian Grimm had seven points.
"Mark was a beast," commented Coach Tucci. "He led us with 26 points and 23 rebounds. They had no answer for him. Christian continues to help the Hornets. He hit some big shots for us. Brandon kept us in it with those three bombs in the third quarter. Jake was battling all night and had a big 4-point play when we were facing our largest deficit."
The praised didn't stop there.
"Drew just missed a triple double," the coach added. "He played his best game of the year. He had all that pressure on him and only committed one turnover. Jack (Naiman) came back from an illness and did a good job for us and Jordan (Browning) hit another three.
"Jaret played an outstanding floor game. He has shown some great leadership out there. I think that Jaret put the dagger in the Warriors when he took a nice pass from Drew and hit a three in the fourth quarter to put the lead up to 7. They never got any closer."
Malvern (16-8) was to battle second-seeded Zanesville Rosecrans (18-6) in a district semifinal at Meadowbrook on March 7.
The other half of the bracket features top-seeded Strasburg against Toronto, the third seed.
The winners will play for the district title this Friday, March 10, 7 p.m.
Earlier in the week, the boys dominated for 32 minutes as they posted a 29-point win over visiting Frontier.
Malvern led 18-8 after the opening quarter, 42-19 at halftime, and 58-33 heading into the final stanza.
Majestic had 21 points and three assists; Patterson had 19 points, seven rebounds and three assists; Mayle had 17 points and 10 boards; Hutchison had three points, 13 assists, four rebounds and three steals; Christian Grimm had six points, Spencer Rabbit had four points and five boards; and Jake Moser had four points and four rebounds.
"It was good to begin the tourney trail with a win at home," stated Coach Tucci. "We played very well on both ends. We were just a lot quicker than them. Jaret hit his first two three-pointers to get us going. Drew was running by their guys all night and making passes that led to easy buckets. Mark played an outstanding third quarter when we put the game away.
"Brandon was the player of the game as he scored 19 points on only eight field-goal attempts. He also had seven rebounds. He is really shooting the ball well and he has improved on defense too. Christian, Jordan and Spencer made big plays for us off the bench."