By Mark Kitchin
CHATHAM — There were times when Todd Hartman and the members of the Hanover Park boys basketball team looked at their opponents from Summit and saw last year’s version of themselves.
Their experiences from last year helped in Hanover Park’s 58-57 come-from-behind victory over the Summit in the thrilling opener of the Cougar Classic in Chatham on Saturday.
The Hornets rallied from a six-point deficit late in the fourth quarter and won it on a pair of John Crown free throws with 11.1 seconds left in the game. The Hilltoppers threat ended when Ryan George grabbed the last of his 16 rebounds off a Will Schaffer miss in the final seconds.
Crown finished with 15 points, Matt Pitts had 13 points and Matt Winschuh added 12 for Hanover Park (3-1). Michael Kaelin had 14 to lead all scorers for Summit (2-2).
Hanover Park’s Matt Pitts helped his team with 10 fourth-quarter points. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)
This year’s Hanover Park team is not the uptempo team of last year but their opponents from Summit are trying to be. The Hilltoppers pressed the Hornets full-court throughout and substituted liberally.
“I said to our guys that they remind me a lot of us last year,” Hartman said. “They have two waves of guys that come at you. I can see that what we did last year was a pain in the neck to teams. … It’s difficult to prepare for. We still have elements of that in our game. We are okay with that style of game but we aren’t using our depth the same way. We are giving more minutes to our top six or seven guys.”
Hanover Park and its players also know some of the drawbacks of running that uptempo system. When teams have a lead the aggressive style can allow opponents to climb back into the game. Summit often rushed shots and got in early foul trouble. It had a six-point lead with less than two minutes remaining but couldn’t hold it.
“Two things helped us,” Hartman said. “We are familiar with that style of play and where and when we can get in trouble. We also had the knowledge that they are going to let us back in at some point.”
Hartman called it a character-building win. The Hornets were down two starters. Low post standout Donny Dattolo has been missing time with ankle trouble and sophomore point guard Mike Boeckel had a family commitment.
Dattolo’s presence was truly missed on the inside especially on the offensive end. However, George had an outstanding game. The tough Hornets football linemen stood his ground and drew a huge charge on Summit’s Will Schaffer’s drive with 27 seconds left in regulation. It gave Hanover Park the ball down 57-56 with a chance to go ahead.
“From freshman year to now (Ryan George) is by far the most improved kid in our program,” Hartman said. “Every year he has just gotten a little better, a little better, a little better. He learned from the guys that played in front of him. He has a great basketball IQ and he says and does all the right things. He doesn’t say too much but when he does he has the ear of the room.”
Summit’s full-court pressure kept Hanover Park in scramble mode much of the time. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)
Crown took matters from there. The Hanover Park standout had four fouls when he was inserted back early in the fourth quarter after the Hornets fell behind. With 20 seconds left in the game, he took the ball on an inbounds play, made a move to the basket and was fouled on a reach in. He had been in plenty of those pressure situation last year. No one on the team doubted that he would knock down a pair of free throws to get Hanover Park up by one in the waning seconds.
“I can’t say enough about John Crown,” Hartman said. “The burden of doing all the ball handling came on him. They were trying to take him out. He had the four fouls but he came back and played such a smart game. He did what really good players do. It ended up with the ball in his hand, hitting the two winning free throws. That’s the guy we were trying to get the ball to.”
Neither team developed too much of a lead during the thrilling contest. Hanover Park led 17-14 after the first quarter and 30-28 at the break. Free throws and threes helped the Hornets early. Nine of their 30 points came from the line. They also had five threes with Crown and Joey Jandoli hitting two each from beyond the arc.
The Hornets led most of the third quarter before a Schaffer steal and layup gave them a 40-39 edge with 1:06 left in the third quarter.
Summit’s Alex Dadourian rejects a Hanover Park shot attempt. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)
Summit led 43-41 going into the final period and went on a 7-2 run to start the fourth quarter. Hanover Park was forced to put Crown back in and the Hornets’ Pitts got more assertive. The senior swingman, who was scoreless during the first half, had 10 fourth-quarter points. Twice he hit layups in the final period to put Hanover Park within two. He was also 4-for-4 from the free throw line in the final five minutes.
“When we lost the lead and we were down about six, Pitts got that glossed over look on his face,” Hartman said. “He’s the heartbeat of the team with what he does.”
His final bucket with 30 seconds left cut Summit’s edge to 57-56. One drawn charge by George and a pair of free throws by Crown followed and the Hornets were able to celebrate one of the most exciting wins of the early season.