Toledo Christian’s Delano Smith sneaks between Cardinal Stritch’s Joey Holifield, left, and Terrance Taylor going to the basket during the first half of Friday’s Toledo Area Athletic Conference game at Toledo Christian. THE BLADE/KATIE RAUSCH
Before a loud, energetic home crowd on Alumni Night, Toledo Christian’s more experienced team was simply not going to be denied in a showdown for first place in Toledo Area Athletic Conference boys basketball.
The Eagles rallied from a 13-point third-quarter deficit Friday night to take a 51-47 victory over visiting Cardinal Stritch.
Toledo Christian (9-3, 7-0 TAAC) was led by 6-foot-7 senior Joe Ochoa, who had 18 points, 11 rebounds, and five blocked shots in the win, their second over Stritch in conference play this season.
RELATED CONTENT: Prep basketball action, Friday, Jan. 20
IN PICTURES: Toledo Christian 51, Cardinal Stritch 47
The Cardinals (9-3, 6-2), who led 28-17 at halftime, were paced by freshman guard Joey Holifield’s 16 points and five rebounds.
Stritch was up by 13 points on two occasions in the second quarter, and was up by 13 for the final time at 32-19 with 5:07 left in the third quarter after a driving basket from Holifield.
But Toledo Christian began chipping away, and launched a 20-4 run that enabled them to pull ahead 37-36 with 6:40 remaining in the game on an inside bucket from sub Owen Gast.
“We just executed what coach [Dave McWhinnie] told us to do — rebound and clog the lanes,” Ochoa said of his team’s rally. “This team never gives up. It’s a special group of guys.
“We did all the small things and executed, and we got the W. I felt like it was our game the whole game, even when we were down by 13.”
How did the Eagles find the right formula to regroup from being flat and 13 points down to take the win?
“I’m not sure,” McWhinnie said. “We just wanted to chip away at the lead. We wanted to get it under six at the end of the [third] quarter, and give ourselves a chance in the fourth.
“We felt, if we could get back in the game, with this big crowd, we might have a chance to get a little momentum going. We got back in the game, and our kids executed down the stretch.”
Joel Gleason’s driving basket capped that game-breaking run, giving the Eagles a 39-36 edge with 5:23 left. Stritch never regained the lead.
Gast, who had played only three minutes in the game before the fourth quarter, scored eight points in that period to help TC stay perfect in TAAC play.
“I just wanted to bring a fire back to the team,” Gast said. “I had to bring the intensity. I just wanted to fire up my guys, and get them all going. It’s all about the team, and we came out with the win.”
The Cardinals’ demise could be attributed to their inability to get fourth-quarter production out of the four players who had combined for all 28 of their first-half points.
Holifield, sophomore guard Jordan Burton (11 points), 6-3 junior forward Terrance Taylor, and sophomore sub Little Anderson had only three points in the final period, those on a 3-pointer from Burton with 17 seconds remaining and Stritch down 49-44.
“We were discombobulated,” Cardinals coach Jamie Kachmarik said. “We showed our lack of maturity. As soon as [TC] went on a run and the place got loud, we just panicked. We’re just not good enough yet to overcome stuff like that.
“We played good in the first half. You know it’s going to be a game of runs. But, we don’t have that senior leadership. We’re young, and we panicked, and Ochoa took advantage of it.”
Toledo Christian’s decisive surge began with a three-point play from Ochoa with 4:40 left in the third, and three free throws by Landon McGill 36 seconds later, pulling the Eagles within 32-25.
After Holifield countered with a transition layup, TC got another three-point play from Ochoa at the 2:55 mark of the third, and a put-back bucket from Graham Leu 40 seconds later to get within 34-30.
Delano Smith, who added 11 points for Toledo Christian, closed the third quarter with a buzzer-beating runner from the lane off a steal. That shot, which added fuel to an already enthusiastic home crowd, cut the Cardinals’ lead to 36-32.
The Cardinals, who hit just eight of their 27 second-half shots, simply could not stem the tide once Toledo Christian grabbed the momentum.
The Eagles were 18-of-41 (44 percent) from the field, 13-of-18 at the foul line, edged Stritch 32-29 in rebounds, and committed 14 turnovers to eight for the Cards.
Stritch was 20-of-53 (38 percent) from the field, and 6-of-7 at the line.
“To me, this was just game No. 12,” Kachmarik said. “We’re too young to think about winning TAAC championships yet. I want to be good in March, and we have to get better every day. Our guys need to grow.”
Toledo Christian's Joe Ochoa puts up a 3-pointer against Cardinal Stritch. THE BLADE/KATIE RAUSCH
Joel Gleason of Toledo Christian shoots over Cardinal Stritch's Collin Yost. THE BLADE/KATIE RAUSCH
Toledo Christian’s Graham Leu gets his shot blocked by Cardinal Stritch’s Nick Staler. At right is Terrance Taylor. THE BLADE/KATIE RAUSCH