After the Hall boys basketball team struggled with free throws at the beginning of the season, coach Mike Filippini began emphasizing them more in practice.
Every day, the Red Devil coach harped on technique, being on your toes and following through, among other specifics.
It became a focus, and Miguel Villarreal is thankful for it.
Especially after Saturday night.
In the Colmone Classic championship against Mendota, Hall made its free throws down the stretch as the Red Devils went 10-for-11 from the foul line in the fourth quarter to earn a 56-54 victory over the Trojans.
“At the beginning of the season, we didn’t get to the line or we didn’t make them when we got there, so we hit it hard in practice,” said Villarreal, the Colmone Classic MVP. “We hit it hard because that’s what wins games. Coach did a great job of getting us ready.”
On Saturday, free throws made all the difference.
While the Red Devils (6-4) missed just one free throw in the fourth quarter and went 11-for-15 in the game, Mendota (8-3) struggled as it shot 2-for-7 in the fourth quarter and 13-for-25 in the game.
“You’ve got to make them,” MHS coach Jan Thompson said. “I can’t give you an explanation as to why we struggled. We shoot every morning before school. The guys have to come in and make 10 free throws every morning before school, and we shoot them in practice all the time. When it comes to crunch-time situations, we have to make them.”
While the Trojans were unable to repeat, Hall won its first Colmone Classic under Filippini and its first Colmone title since 2004. The championship was only the second Colmone title for the Red Devils in last 16 years and the seventh in the 40-year history of the tournament.
“All the credit goes to the kids,” Filippini said. “It wasn’t my coaching that won us the game. It was all the kids, and they deserved to win this.”
The Red Devils pushed the pace throughout most of Saturday’s title game but never led by more than six points.
Mendota rallied to take a 45-44 lead with 5:09 left, and the game was tied at 47-47 with 1:38 remaining when the Red Devils’ free throw shooting took over.
On back-to-back trips to the line, Hall senior Ian Trevier made four straight bonus free throws to give the Red Devils a 51-47 lead with 1:01 to play, but Mendota’s Jake Rod hit a 3-point shot to pull the Trojans to 51-50 with 47 seconds left.
After the teams traded turnovers, Hall junior A.J. Gaeta made a pair of free throws to give the Red Devils a 53-50 advantage with 22.8 seconds to go.
MHS senior Sam Bowne made the back end of his double-bonus free throws to cut the deficit to 53-51 with 16 seconds to play, but a bucket by Red Devil senior Collin Aimone and a free throw from Villarreal gave Hall a 56-51 lead with 3.6 seconds left.
After being fouled, MHS junior Ryan Reeder made the first of his double-bonus free throws before he purposely missed the second and tipped in the rebound to cut the deficit to 56-54 with 1.1 seconds to play.
However, following a MHS timeout, Hall inbounded and ran out the clock.
“This has just been crazy,” Villarreal said. “We struggled last year and we started this year struggling, so we needed something big like this just to get us going and show us that we can win games. We always get doubted just because that’s how it is, but we wanted to win to prove that we can win, and this was a good exclamation point.”
Gaeta finished with a game-high 20 points, while Trevier had 13 points and a game-high 11 rebounds. Villarreal added 12 points and six rebounds.
James Carroll had 20 points and 11 rebounds for MHS, while Ryan Reeder had 11 points and 10 rebounds.
St. Bede held off Fieldcrest for a 50-49 win in the third-place game.
The Bruins led down the stretch in the fourth quarter as they took a 50-47 lead with 24.7 seconds to play after junior Justin Shaw went 1-for-2 from the foul line.
Fieldcrest junior Grant Jochums cut the deficit to 50-49 with a lay-in with 4.5 seconds left.
SBA junior Jack Brady missed two double-bonus free throws with 1.7 seconds left to give the Knights a chance, but a desperation 3-pointer missed.
Brady had a game-high 16 points for SBA (6-3), while Andrew Pyszka added 14 points, a game-high seven rebounds and three blocks.
Drew Barth scored 13 points for Fieldcrest (3-5), while Jochums contributed 12 points and seven rebounds.
In the fifth-place game, Bureau Valley lost in heartbreaking fashion.
Tied at 54-54 with less than five seconds to play, Stark County’s Jake Berchtold scored and was fouled on a back-door layup with 1.3 second left. He made the free throw to complete the three-point play and the Storm missed a full-court 3-pointer as the Rebels escaped with a 57-54 win.
Parker Neuhalfen scored 22 points for BV (6-5).
In the seventh-place game, Quest Academy downed the Hall JV squad 54-37.
In addition to Villarreal being named tournament MVP, Hall’s Gaeta made the all-tournament team as well as Mendota’s Carroll and Reeder, St. Bede’s Jarret Olson, Fieldcrest’s Drew Barth and Ryan Barth, Bureau Valley’s Neuhalfen and Tommy Johnson and Stark County’s Berchtold.
Jared Bell can be reached at 220-6938, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.