By Pete Chiodo
Asked how important it was getting the team’s first win of the season, Meadville’s head boys basketball coach Mark McElhinny blurted out the answer before the question was even finished.
“Huge,” he said.
“It’s huge because we’re going into a really nice stretch here the next couple weeks — McDowell, Sharon, Hickory.”
McElhinny didn’t even mention the fact that it was his first victory as the head coach of the Bulldogs varsity team. Even after a small congratulatory gesture following Saturday’s 65-28 victory over Conneaut in the Sertoma Tipoff Tournament consolation game, he just nodded his head and moved right along.
“We took care of the ball — eight or nine turnovers,” he said. “We ran our offense, got some good looks, got some momentum and were able to stretch the game out.”
It’s not like it’s his first hoe-down, after all. It was actually the 209th varsity basketball victory for McElhinny, not to mention all the other wins he’s garnered on the junior basketball level over the past three years.
This one just happened to be the first with the big ’Dogs. So, it seemed, he wasn’t ready to get worked up about it, no doubt hoping that there are more momentous victories to come.
“It was fun,” was all he would say.
On the other hand, Bulldogs sophomore Jason Clune had no problem talking up the win.
“It’s always a big one to get over the hump with a new coach,” Clune said. “We had a game plan, we came out and we executed. That’s basically what it was. It was a good win coming off a tough loss (Friday) night to East.”
Asked about the new regime, he answered, “I love it. I love it. It’s a great change. We practice hard every day. It’s a great team atmosphere.”
Clune, an all-tournament team pick, was a focal point to the Bulldogs’ attack last night, leading the team with 19 points. He had 16 in the first half alone, a full half of the points Meadville scored during the first two quarters as it took a 32-14 lead over the Eagles. Clune also led the team in rebounds with eight.
Faizon McClure, another all-tournament selection, also had a big game offensively, scoring 15 points. And senior Jake Gregor did a little bit of everything, scoring 10 points with six assists, five steals and five rebounds.
“Faizon got out and played real well tonight, ran the floor,” said McElhinny. “And when he does that it opens things up for us in other areas. Clune was steady again. Gregor was a calming influence out there too.”
The Bulldogs were also to get nearly everyone off the bench in the fourth quarter. Cottrell McDonald had time to score four points. Roman Pero and Anthoni Boitnott knocked down treys. Alex Parker, Jake Jageman and Derek Niemann each had a bucket.
“That’s key, getting them experience,” said Clune. “Our goal in the third quarter was to get a sizable lead so they could come in and get some experience and we could get guys some points in varsity.”
The Bulldogs amassed that lead with a tenacious defense that recorded 19 steals during the game, as well as a determined effort on the boards, which saw the ’Dogs grab 34 rebounds, including 17 on offense.
“Clune, he killed us on the boards,” said Conneaut head coach Bob Leupold. “Gregor, they all crash hard. ... It didn’t help that our big guy (Chris Richardson) went down in the first quarter, probably the first two minutes of the game. He should be all right. I think he just rolled (an ankle).”
Conneaut’s top scorer was Danny Holcomb, who tallied eight points. Freshman Tom Detelich finished the game with seven and was picked for the all-tournament team.
The Eagles, now 0-2, continue the hunt for their first win of the season. And Leupold isn’t using his team’s overall youth as the reason why.
“That’s no excuse,” he said. “We’ve got to come to play. This is triple-A basketball. This is what we’ve got to prepare for. I take full responsibility for my team’s inadequacies tonight. But we’ll get better. (Meadville) is young too. I don’t use youth as an excuse. We’ve got to do things better. We’ve got to make a good pass, make our layups and rebound.
“But we’ll get better. This is good experience. We played a quad-A team and a triple-a team. My young players got a lot of experience this weekend. And that’s a good thing. ... We can only get better.”