Bulldogs pull away late defeating Cleveland Heights 52-42 to advance to Division I Regionals in Kent
Copley, OH- When the scoreboard clock flashed zero, Bulldogs head coach Sonny Johnson had the smile from ear to ear that lit up the gym as his Garfield Heights Bulldogs squad celebrated like no other.
Garfield came into the district championship with the feeling of disrespect. For a team that swept Cleveland Height for the first time in five years, that still didn't feel like enough to gain the respect of some.
"Nobody thought we'd beat Heights three times in one season." said senior Tommie Benn III after the game. "CJ (Little) told us before the game, the can't score if we don't let them"
The Bulldogs lived by exactly what Little said. They started the game on a 7-1 run, led by Johnson and juniors Deandre Johnson as well as Little. Cleveland Heights senior guard Jaeden Lawson injured his right thumb early in the game and would not be effective, going scoreless in the game. Senior Shemarion Hardy broke the streak of no baskets scored by the Tigers, with a triple of his own. Benn followed up with a triple of his own to keep the lead to at 6. Heights would go on to finish the quarter down 17-9.
Without sharpshooter guard Lawson at his disposal, Heights coach JR Bremer's teams needed a second quarter spark to avoid this game getting out of hand quick. Bremer changed his starting lineup, starting senior Zion Harris instead of normal big man in the middle JayQuan Stubbs. Stubbs made his presence felt in the second quarter, picking up the first bucket to start the run for the Tigers.
Heights opened the quarter in a 8-2 run before senior guard Jyles Brandon fought inside for two tough layups to keep the Dawgs lead at 10. Heights then would buckle down and play their style of ball, trimming the Garfield lead to a 27-21 six point deficit at the end of the first half.
Heights started the second half sound on defense. They slowed the Dawgs down, only allowing 6 tilts points in the quarter. They forced turnovers off the Bulldogs on three straight possessions, before Marcus Johnson went on his own 4-0 run. Heights caught back with a 6-0 run to close the quarter down 33-30 behind back-to-back threes from Duncan and Hardy.
Garfield started the fourth quarter on a 7-4 run, before blowing the game open with a 8 point double digit lead halfway through the quarter. Heights would not be able to overcome the smothering defense from Bulldogs guards CJ Little, Tommie Benn and Jyles Brandon. Brandon and Little dominated the final quarter offensively, combining for 13 of the teams 19 points in the quarter to secure the win for the team.
Immediately after the buzzer, Sonny found Marcus and embraced him with the biggest hug a father could get his son after such a big accomplishment.
"I knew I would win at least one district title with him (Marcus). I didn't know it would be this soon".
Garfield Heights advances to Kent where they'll face St. Ignatius at the Memorial Athletic and Convocation Center on Thursday at 7pm.
Benn, Duncan and Hardy all led both teams with 12 points.
Heights ends their season with a record of 18-8.