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Cats overcome slow start to win 12th sectional title in last 15 years

Cats overcome slow start to win 12th sectional title in last 15 years


Mogadore’s Nick Stephenson (55) and Corey Lehner attempt to secure an offensive rebound.
Paisley Nader/Portage Sports

By Tom Nader

Publisher and Editor


Mogadore’s first-quarter shooting woes would doom many teams and set the stage for an uphill climb that may never be reversed.

Mogadore is not like many teams, though.

Not at all.

The Wildcats pressed on with the same formula that has guided them to success throughout the entire season: Keep shooting with confidence and good things will happen.

Once again on Friday, good things happened.

Mogadore’s Lucas Butler goes up for a layup during the second half of Friday’s sectional final victory over Oberlin.
Paisley Nader/Portage Sports

Mogadore survived its 2-for-13 shooting start, including 1-of-8 from 3-point range, and eventually built a 17-point lead in the third quarter before holding off a rally attempt by the Oberlin Phoenix to secure a 59-48 Division IV sectional championship victory.

It is Mogadore’s 12th sectional title in the last 15 years and the program’s first since the 2018-19 season.

It advances the fifth-seeded Cats to Tuesday’s district semifinal, which will be against No. 9 seed Salineville Southern. The game will be at Norton High School at 7 p.m.

“We were getting good shots in the first quarter, but they just were not falling. There were a couple in-and-outs and pretty much every look was clean,” Mogadore head coach Russ Swartz said. “But our guys just kept after it. They did not panic. They trusted in each other.”

Mogadore settled in and made 18-of-41 field goals after the first quarter, including 8-of-16 from beyond the arc.

Mogadore senior Nick Coffman gets ahead of the pack to flip up a transition layup.
Paisley Nader/Portage Sports

Five of those coming in hot stretches in separate third- and fourth-quarter runs that proved crucial to the Cats.

Mogadore (20-4) built its largest lead, 36-19, in the third quarter after Layne Miller (21 points) hit a pair of free throws on an Oberlin technical, then Miller buried a 3 that was followed by another 3 from Corey Lehner. Nick Coffman then finished at the rim in transition on a layup that were all part of a 14-4 run to start the third for Mogadore that blew open a 22-15 halftime lead to its 17-point advantage.

In the fourth quarter, Miller, Coffman and Lucas Butler all hit 3-pointers early to stave off Oberlin’s comeback attempt that got as close to 53-48 with 56.7 seconds left. The rally by the Phoenix was largely led by Omario Hopkins, who scored 10 points in the fourth and 17 in the second half on his way to a game-high 24 points (10-of-18 field goals).

Coffman sealed the game, however, by connecting on four consecutive free throws as part of the one-and-one bonus.

Oberlin’s Isaac Thompson puts up a shot in the lane while Mogadore’s Devin Graham (24) defends.
Paisley Nader/Portage Sports

“I thought we played very good defense in the first half, but we kept getting beat off the dribble in the second half. We made enough shots, though, to survive their run,” Swartz said. “We have had to shoot all year because we miss our big guys down low (injuries to Mason Williams and Trevor Davis), but I say that, and we have always been a team that shoots a lot of 3s.

“Tonight, I thought we did a great job of making the extra pass. The ‘one mores’ that turn a good shot into a great shot,” Swartz added. “When you have players that place winning as a priority over stats, that is what you get.”

Mogadore senior Corey Lehner absolutely fit that description on Friday. While his stats prove his value, finishing with 10 points, seven assists, five rebounds and four steals, it was his collection of energy plays that enhance his performance.

His defensive presence on the perimeter kept Oberlin uncomfortable, while Lehner also was one of the primary players that would double down on Phoenix post players. Though undersized, he would drop down to either double on the ball or deny the entry pass, then still recover to his player on the perimeter without missing a step.

“Corey is tremendously quick on defense, and he makes so many things happen for us,” said Swartz, whose Wildcats helped force Oberlin (10-14) into 23 turnovers. “We either causes the turnover or gets it himself, and we need him to create those opportunities for us. They really get us going.”

Mogadore’s Corey Lehner (left) plays on-ball defense against Oberlin’s Chris Walker. Lehner finished the game with four steals.
Paisley Nader/Portage Sports

Alongside Lehner, sophomore Nick Stephenson also played at a level beyond his underclassmen status as the primary post defender for the Cats.

“Nick had one of those games tonight where he grew up a little bit,” Swartz said. “I thought he was huge for us. He really battled down low and played big.”

Stephenson finished with six points, seven rebounds and five blocked shots.

Coffman scored all 15 of his points in the second half, rebounding from an 0-for-6 start from the field. Butler added seven points for the Cats.

Mogadore head coach Russ Swartz talks to his team during a second-half timeout.
Paisley Nader/Portage Sports

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