It was the Kyle Stefanski show as Independence edged visiting Cardinal, 54-52, in a Chagrin Valley Conference Valley Division showdown. Stefanski scored a game-high 31 points including a driving layup with three seconds left to lead the Blue Devils to their second win of the season.
“It was the way we drew it up,” said Independence coach Hugh McMahon of Stefanski’s layup off an in-bounds pass. “I really liked how focused we were in making changes in the huddle in the fourth quarter. I thought we were really sloppy in the third quarter and gave them some momentum but our guys responded. We’ve been doing that more of late when times get tough, we step back up and increased our intensity. That’s a great sign for us.”
Independence led 25-22 at halftime but the Huskies mounted a charge in the third and led by four with just over a minute to play. Junior guard Luke Timas, who led Cardinal with 17 points, fouled out and the Blue Devils took advantage.
“Their point guard, who was giving us a hard time, he fouls out so we decided to put some pressure on them,” McMahon said. “That was a great call by my coaching staff, Percy Robinson, Brent Johnson and Tom Smith, all helped out with that. We put some pressure on them and we were able to create some things and put them on their heels. We were able to convert, which has been tough for us at times but we finished tonight.”
Independence forced three turnovers on Cardinals’ final three possessions and turned each into points to close out the game.
“We were up by four with about a minute left when (Timas) fouled out and we’re trying to run some offense to get some guys moving,” said Cardinal coach Jon Cummins. “I think the moment was probably a little bit too big for them. It’s just frustrating to lose like that. They’re at the bottom of the conference like we are and those are the ones you have to win and we haven’t.”
The Blue Devils got a spark out of Jacob Allen, who came off the bench and scored all eight of his points in the fourth quarter.
“He’s been coming on of late,” McMahon said. “He started early but had some physical problems with some injuries that got him behind. He’s been working on it but he finished tonight. We’ve had some difficulty with finishing inside but he was patient and went strong. He really stepped up and kept us in it in the fourth quarter.”
Stefanski finished with four 3-pointers.
“It’s fairly obvious that we’ve changed our scheme,” McMahon said. “We’re looking for him first. He’s the guy with the most experience and he’s taken to it. He’s playing point guard for us, that’s not his natural position, but he’s getting better at it even though teams are focusing their defense on it. He’s taking to it and I’m really impressed with how he’s stepping up.”
Cardinal got off to a slow start and struggled at times to keep the Blue Devils in check. The Huskies found some momentum in the second and third quarters but faded down the stretch.
“Execution is part of it,” Cummins said. “They run that nice little pick off the win from the high post. I told my guys to go over the pick and they go under every time. We’re not supposed to switch on it and they’re switching. There are a lot of things we go over and they’re not grasping the concepts. Hopefully moving forward we will.”
Jack Ksiazka pitched in with five points for the Blue Devils while Alex Hall finished with four and Andrew Teribery, Stephen Molchan and Jamie McMahon each scored two. In addition to the 17 from Timas, Cardinal got 13 from Robbie Mulh, eight from Parker Kosh and six from Matt Carney. Hayden Cummins contributed with four and Robbie Bruncak and Brice Hogue each scored two for the Huskies.
“Luke played great,” Cummins said. “He controlled the game and got us back into it. Without him on the floor we wouldn’t have been able to do anything.”