By Ryan Kaczmarski
Fairview Park’s Messiah Lutheran School Trailblazers seventh- and eighth-grade boys basketball team won its sixth All Ohio Lutheran Basketball Tournament championship, with a 45-32 win over area rival St. Paul Lutheran School, located in Westlake.
“It was the fourth time we played against (St. Paul Lutheran) this season,” Messiah Lutheran head coach and athletic director Brian Polenz said. “We beat them two out of three times during the (Cleveland Lutheran Elementary League) season – and they are an outstanding team.
“All year, I’ve placed them as the best team in our league,” he added. “They are very well coached and they have some very talented kids. Matching up against them again, in the state championship game, I knew it was going to be a difficult task. With our schools being so close (in proximity) to each other, the boys on the two teams go to a lot of youth group events and dances together. Some of them even play on the same football team. The kids know each other very well, as do their coach and I. It’s a very friendly rivalry. That day, they knew what we were trying to do and we knew what they were trying to do, and who ever played best was going to win. Fortunately for us, we played just a little bit better than they did.”
The Trailblazers had to go through two tough preliminary games just to reach the championships. They advanced past the first round with a thrilling 56-55 overtime victory over St. John Nottingham (Cleveland).
“(St. John Nottingham) had just beat us the week before in our league tournament, by 25 points,” Polenz said. “We didn’t play very well, but then had a great week of practice – we knew that we were going to be playing them again – so, we pinpointed the strategy we wanted to take to beat those guys. We knew we could compete, and we needed things to go our way a little bit to get the win, and we did.”
The semifinal game was against an out-of-town foe, in St. Paul Napoleon (Toledo), in which the Trailblazers squeaked out a 43-40 win.
“It was another back and forth, close game,” Polenz said. “We held on and made some free throws at the end.”
Messiah Lutheran eighth-grader Steven Weber was named the tournament MVP.
“(Weber) played outstanding,” Polenz said. “He’s lightning-fast, very aggressive, very athletic and he was very difficult to stop in all three of the games.”
Oliver Donohoe joined Weber as the only two eighth graders on the team, with the rest of the roster slated to rejoin the team next season.
“I have two solid post and three wing players (returning),” Polenz stated.
The returning players will be led by seventh-graders, Rory Zakarekis and Nick Moore, who both play post.