By RJ Walters / Daily News Sport Editor
As published in the Hillsdale Daily News on March 10, 2009
The one thing coaches say you can’t teach is the one thing the Hillsdale Hornets boy’s basketball team couldn’t do Monday.
In a first-round district showdown with Coldwater the Hornets took care of the ball, played solid defense for four quarters and executed their game-plan almost to a tee according to head coach Brad Felix — but they couldn’t shoot worth a lick and their season is now over because of it.
The Hornets shot just 21 percent from the field as a team, senior guard Mitchell Gabriele was held to seven points on a 2-for-22 shooting effort and for the second straight meeting Cardinals’ point guard Cameron Holicki was the man of the hour in a 60-32 Coldwater victory.
It was an unfathomable way for the Hornets to end a season in which they finished 14-7 and almost pulled off an SMAA championship.
Hillsdale players were antsy to finally get over the hump and win a district title with this group of guys, but a short-handed Coldwater team, who was without starters Jacob Robison and Bobby White due to team violations, shot 58 percent from the field and ended the game on an astonishing 35-6 run.
Felix said he wasn’t angry whatsoever, just disappointed.
“I told them it was a tough way for the seniors to finish their career. Quite frankly we’re real disappointed…we picked a horrible time to shoot the ball like that. It’s a little embarrassing,” he said. “They play good man-to-man defense, but I’ll tell you what man, we got good shots. We had a real good game-plan coming in and we were getting the ball where we wanted it and to the people we wanted to be touching it.”
Coldwater head coach chalked Brian Stevens chalked the win up to defense and heart.
“That was our best defensive effort all year right there. And you know we had to really step it up because we knew we were going to have some guys out, but it was just a fantastic effort,” he said. “I’ve never been more proud of a group of kids than I was tonight. The telling thing here is we have a good team and we don’t have to rely on just two people.”
It also didn’t hurt that Holicki had one of the best games of his career on the same night Gabriele’s had one of his toughest outings.
Holicki scored 13 first-half points, the same number the Hornets had in falling behind by 10 at the break, and he finished the game with 26 points to go with six boards and five assists.
Stevens said Holicki was at his best when Hornets defenders got right up in his face and he was able to drive by them and get to the lane.
“He’s a gamer. He knew he was going to have to step up ands play huge tonight with a few guys out,” he said. “The guy is a great competitor… they just gave him the opportunities and he took them.”
For the Hornets, Gabriele gave it his all and even hit a key 3-pointer early in the second half to begin a run that would give the Hornets a 26-25 advantage, but no one had an answer to why the ball just wouldn’t fall through the cylinder.
“It is frustrating… anytime you shoot that bad when you’re averaging as many points as I am. When they’re not falling and they should be falling, and you’re trying to get your team back on top and trying to get the ‘W’ it’s very frustrating and it hurts,” he said.
Felix said he doesn’t understand what happened, but he has sympathy for his floor general.
“It’s tough to fathom. I just feel bad for Mitchell that he’s got to finish his career like that. That’s his last game and he probably couldn’t have shot the ball any worse than he did,” he said, “He’s a competitor man, and we were going to keep throwing him the ball and getting him looks and we even tried to get him the ball inside. The sets we ran worked, we got him shots on the block and he just couldn’t finish.”
Backcourt mate Scott Lantis had a little better success, knocking down three 3-pointers en route to 11 points, but he said the sting of losing in such a fashion is pretty strong.
“I just think it would’ve been nice if we went out playing well. We’ve got some athletes here, we’ve got some players and if we would’ve gone out and shot well and they beat us, I think we’d have a little better taste in our mouths,” he said. “We had the looks, the game-plan was there, but you can’t coach shooting and like coach said, we weren’t trying to miss.”
For the Cardinals, who will take on Parma Western in the semifinals Wednesday, Seth Szafranski pitched in nine points and Sam Foster and Spensor Tanner both put in seven.
Nick Kelley had six points and six rebounds in his final game as a Hornet.
Despite the defeat, Felix said he was extremely proud to have coached a team who was led by a senior class who had to overcome the shadows of players like the Laser brothers and Mike Blanchard.
“I think they’ve overachieved really and it’s a credit to them. Another thing I’ll remember is they’re competitors, they always go the extra mile and they’ve been loyal parts of our program,” he said. “I enjoyed coaching those guys and I thought they had a great year. We didn’t finish it how we wanted to, but overall it was a pretty good year.”