Playing a rescheduled non-league game on a Tuesday — three days before the regular season finale — the St. Paul boys basketball team had fallen behind 12 points in the second quarter to Tiffin Calvert.
But the Flyers found a spark, outscoring the Senecas by a 34-14 margin over a 17-minute span — then held on for a 48-46 win at the convocation center in Norwalk.
With the win, St. Paul improved to 11-10 overall entering Friday’s Firelands Conference game at South Central.
Trailing 27-21 at halftime, the Flyers outscored Calvert (8-14) by a 15-4 margin in the third quarter. The Senecas were held to one field goal for the entire eight minutes.
“We really picked it up defensively,” St. Paul coach Mike Smith said. “We pressured the ball and became more aggressive — and I thought it happened midway through the second quarter. We got on them and told them to compete. We had to be the more aggressive team.”
Calvert’s Nick Seifert put the Senecas, who led 13-9 after one quarter, ahead by a 23-11 score with 4:39 left until halftime. But the Flyers responded with an 8-0 scoring run to get back in the game.
Chris Ruffing, Nick Winslow and Treg Smith each scored baskets to pull within 23-21, though the Senecas got the final two baskets of the half with under 30 seconds remaining to go up 27-21 at halftime.
St. Paul pulled within 27-26 early in the third, only to see Seifert make a basket to put the Senecas up 29-26 at the 4:11 mark. It was their only basket of the quarter, as the Flyers proceeded to close out the third on a 10-2 scoring run to take a 36-31 lead into the fourth quarter.
Ian Kashian, Nick Lukasko and Ruffing combined to score all 10 points for the Flyers.
It was a 38-37 St. Paul lead two-plus minutes into the final quarter when Nate Winslow made a pair of free throws, and was followed by a Jake Griffin 3-pointer. Nate Winslow then added a driving layup with 3:42 to put the Flyers up 45-37 — but the Senecas weren’t done yet.
The Flyers struggled to convert free throws down the stretch, and back-to-back 3-pointers by Park Hemminger and Nick Somodi brought the Senecas within 46-44 with 42.1 seconds left.
Griffin split a pair of free throws with 34 seconds left, and Calvert came up empty on its ensuing possession. Nate Winslow then split a pair of free throws with 20 seconds left to make it a two-possession game (48-44), and the Senecas scored as time expired for the final margin.
St. Paul was 11-of-28 (39 percent) at the free-throw line.
“We made baskets, but obviously that was the one glaring error, which it has been,” Smith said of the foul shooting. “I liked that we got there and how we handled ourselves down the stretch — but we have to make free throws to make that a 10 or 12-point game that is more comfortable.”
Ruffing finished with 13 points and six rebounds to lead a balanced St. Paul offensive output. Nick Winslow added eight points, while Nate Winslow and Griffin each scored six points. Kashian had five points and eight rebounds, and Paul Pearce grabbed five rebounds.
“It’s a good win. Calvert had been playing pretty well and has some nice athletes,” Smith said. “It was kind of a funny night with the timing and on a Tuesday.
“There wasn’t a lot of atmosphere, we had to kind of create our own,” he added. “On Friday, it will be a fun atmosphere with so much on the line for South Central.”
The Trojans (14-7, 11-2) need a win over the Flyers to clinch at least a share of the FC title. They are tied with Western Reserve (13-6, 11-2), which will be heavy favorites on Friday at Monroeville (1-20, 0-13).
Should St. Paul beat Crestline (9-11) next Tuesday in a Division IV sectional semifinal at Galion — the Flyers and Trojans would meet for a third time in the second game back at Galion on March 2 in a sectional final.
“We’re looking forward to it,” Smith said. “It should be a tournament-type atmosphere against a team we could see in the tournament a week later.
“We’ll try and do our best to prepare a game plan and go out and execute it, and try to hurt their chances,” he added. “Those games only make you better.”