The stage is set for the Division IV district final – a rematch between the Malvern Hornets and the Hiland Hawks.
In front of an electric crowd, at neutral site Harrison Central, the Malvern Hornets knocked off the Shadyside Tigers Tuesday night by a score of 61-45.
Michael Minor led the Hornets with a career-high 32 points, including 15 in the fourth quarter alone. He finished with 11 of Malvern’s 30 rebounds as well.
“He played great all game, but defensively, I think he got every rebound,” Coach Tucci said about the standout player.
It was a slow start for both teams, missing back to back shots to set up a 12-9 score by the end of the first quarter with Shadyside in the lead.
Michael Minor and Noah Ball played large roles in the Hornets success – Minor scored eight in the first quarter and Ball scored eight in the second quarter. Malvern led 27-19 at halftime.
As the teams went back and forth in the third quarter, Ball stepped up as time ticked off the clock at the end of the quarter. The Hornets held a 34-31 lead and he chucked up a three-pointer from the corner in front of the Malvern bench and sank it to cushion the Hornets’ lead by six points.
“Noah Ball probably hits the shot of the game in the third quarter,” Tucci said. “He helps us on both ends. He affects the game because of his blocked shots and his length. He’s a great, teammate.”
Minor sang the praises of his teammates third quarter shot as well.
“Biggest shot of the game, it wasn’t even close. It was the biggest shot of the game,” he said. “Noah Ball is a dog!”
Ball recognized that his shot was a game-altering basket.
“I didn’t even think it went in, but I saw it go in and I just felt electricity all throughout my body,” he said. “It felt amazing. At the moment, I was like, ‘alright, this game is ours.’”
Ball noted that his teammate, Minor, was a playmaker tonight.
“Michael Minor was a stud tonight,” he said. “On the court, everywhere. He was amazing tonight.
Malvern held a 37-31 lead over the Tigers entering the fourth quarter. They ran out in front, outscoring Shadyside 24-14 in the fourth quarter.
Coach Dennis Tucci acknowledged the late-game decision making by point guard KJ Thomas.
“His decision making was spot on. He put the ball where it needed to go,” he said. “I think that was the difference.”
Minor said he’s ready to take on the Hawks and it’s a game the Hornets have had marked on their calendars.
“I can’t lose to them for a third time. We just can’t do that,” he said.
Many of the senior players won an IVC championship together in eighth grade, and he’s ready to win the big thing now.
“We’ve had good chemistry, now I just want to go win one with this team,” Minor said. “These guys mean everything to me.”
Malvern’s head coach Dennis Tucci showed high energy through all four quarters of the game. When asked how he keeps that same energy after four decades of coaching the sports, he said: “It’s a lot of years for me, but they (the players) only gets two or three, some get four, but most only get two or three. I want this group to experience what we’ve experienced.”
Ball finished the game with 11 points, including three three-pointers.
Malvern will play Hiland Friday night at New Philadelphia High School with a 7pm tip-off.