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Winning basketball: Mogadore captures seventh league title in nine years

Winning basketball: Mogadore captures seventh league title in nine years


By Tom Nader

Publisher and Editor

Friday ended in a special way for the Mogadore boys basketball team.

One by one, players climbed up the ladder and snipped a piece of the net in a postgame championship celebration that has happened with plenty of regularity for the Wildcats.

With the Wildcats’ 63-46 victory over Rootstown on Friday, on Senior Night, Mogadore clinched at least a share of the Portage Trail Conference title.

The Cats, who have now won 16 consecutive games and have not lost in two months, will get a chance for the outright championship next Friday (Feb. 23) at Lake Center Christian.

For Mogadore, it is the program’s seventh championship in the last nine years.

An unprecedented run of supremacy in Portage County, with head coach Russ Swartz being the common factor, but also with a collection of winning players along the way.

On Friday, nobody made more winning plays than Corey Lehner.

Mogadore senior Corey Lehner cuts down a piece of the net after the Wildcats clinched at least a share of the Portage Trail Conference championship on Friday.
Tom Nader/Portage Sports

The senior point guard was nothing short of electric, and he was the spark his team needed on a night when they did not shoot as well as they are accustomed to.

For the game, the Cats shot 26-of-60 (43 percent) from the field, but only 6-of-23 (26 percent) from 3-point range.

Lehner’s fingerprints were all over the game.

He scored: 14 points on 7-of-12 shooting, with a collection of left-handed layups in the open court and half court that he floated effortlessly off the glass.

He passed: A season-high 13 assists that had Mogadore been shooting at the rate they typically hit, could have threatened 20. He was the team’s offensive orchestrator and consistently created opportunities for his teammates.

He defended: Six steals, seven deflected passes and five rebounds. At one point in the second quarter, on consecutive possessions, Lehner picked a steal and made a layup. On the inbounded pass, he swiped another steal for another breakaway layup. On the next inbounds pass, he picked a third steal in a row and was headed for a layup before he was fouled. For the Rovers, there was no pass safe and no ball-handler free from Lehner. 

“Corey does so much for us. Both offensively and defensively, he creates a lot of opportunities for his teammates,” Swartz said. “He puts a lot of pressure on the opposing guards and creates a lot of easy transition buckets for us.”

Some of those opportunities were cashed in by fellow seniors Lucas Butler and Tanner Buso.

Butler buried four 3-pointers on his way to a team-high 16 points, while Buso also delivered a consistent effort and dropped in 14 points.

Mogadore’s long-distance shooting struggles were offset by its relentless defensive pressure.

“It is all about toughness. Physical and mental toughness,” Swartz said. “There are going to be games you don’t shoot it as well, but defense has to be that one constant for 24 minutes.”

The win improved Mogadore to 17-3 overall and 8-1 in the PTC and it was the team’s 15th of the season in which the opponent scored less than 60 points. It was the seventh win this season that the opponent scored less than 50 points.

Mogadore head coach Russ Swartz cuts down the net.
Tom Nader/Portage Sports

Mogadore grabbed an early 11-2 lead in the first quarter, then led 26-16 at halftime. After the two teams tied in the third quarter — both scoring 14 — the Wildcats won the fourth quarter 23-16 in the game’s highest-scoring quarter for both teams.

The Wildcats began the third quarter on a 8-0 run to go up 34-16 before a 7-0 answer by the Rovers made it 34-23 in favor of the Cats. From that point forward, the Rovers never got any closer.

In addition to the double-digit scoring efforts from Lehner, Butler and Buso, Mogadore also received a solid game from junior Nick Stephenson, who finished with eight points and a game-high nine rebounds.

Rootstown (4-16, 1-8 PTC) was led in scoring by senior Aiden Rodstrom with 16 points. Freshman Blake Mullaly had 10 points and senior Cameron Mahone added nine points for the Rovers.

For Monadore, the championship moment is never something that Swartz takes for granted.

“Most people don’t understand how hard it is to win a championship and how hard it is to sustain it for the length of time we have been able to,” the veteran coach said. “We have been very fortunate. We believe in system and culture, and I give the kids all the credit in the world, because they have bought in. They want to win, and more importantly, they expect to win.”

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