Blue Devils walk away with long-awaited victory over Pioneers
Three years and 11 months.
That’s how long it had been since a team beat the Croswell-Lexington boys basketball team in conference play, and the Richmond Blue Devils were the last to do it.
And they would do it again last night with a 53-44 victory in their home gym packed with fans from all around the area.
“[That was] three years worth of getting beat and getting sick of it,” Richmond senior Kyle Bartolomucci said.
From the tip, it was clear the Blue Devils came to play. They opened on a 10-2 run, holding the Pioneers to just two points from the foul line with 2:36 left in the first.
Senior Trey Kolakovich hit a three that cut the deficit in half, but rivaling senior Karl Stevens answered right back. The Pioneers would trail 13-5 heading into the second quarter.
“We didn’t come out to play very early. They got the crowd into it, they scored, and got a little advantage,” Cros-Lex head coach Lance Campbell said. “I thought we got our composure back in the second…then every time it seemed like we were just ready to get over the hump and take the lead for the first time, they hit a stretch.”
It was 23-15 with two minutes left in the first half when Cros-Lex senior Mitchell Geiger hit a three and followed it up with a three-point play from the floor. Stevens split a pair of free throws in between to help the Blue Devils maintain a 24-21 lead heading into the locker room.
Kolakovich then made a jumper on the opening play of the second half, 24-23. The race was on.
“This was one of those games, it could go any way at any point,” Richmond head coach Josh Presnell said. “To be honest with you, this was like a district game, a regional game, and it’s tough.”
The two teams took turns scoring as the Blue Devils maintained their one-point advantage, and then Bartolomucci found his shot. He nailed back-to-back threes and fellow senior D’Quan Haskins followed suit. A 9-0 run in one minute made the difference.
“That won us the game. That was at just the right time,” Presnell said.
"I was just doing my job, to come off the bench with energy and help us out when I’m there. I was pretty excited," Bartolomucci said. "I’ve been working all week, all season, and it paid off tonight."
With 1:26 left in the third, Richmond led 41-27. Senior Drew Hosterman had a layup with 1:20 to go and fellow senior Zachary Kroetsch hit a shot at the buzzer, sparking a bit of hope in to the Pioneers offense that was now trailing 41-31.
“The positive thing is we didn’t quit,” Campbell said. “I’m still proud of the team and I think they fought hard.”
The Pioneers got within five with 1:47 to go when Kroetsch sank his first three of the game to make it 49-44.
“There was 20 seconds left on the clock and I still wasn’t sure what was going to happen,” Presnell said.
Kroetsch's three, however, would be the Pioneers’ final points as Richmond wrapped up its victory with a 4-for-5 performance from the free-throw line.
Stevens led the Blue Devils with 17 points on the night, Haskins added 13, and Bartolomucci had 11. For these three and the four other seniors on this year’s roster, the victory will definitely be a season highlight, but their season is far from over.
“This group just really wants to win, it means a lot to them to win. I know they’d probably rather lose a leg than lose [a game],” Presnell said. “We have Armada on Tuesday. We’re on to the next one. This team has a bunch of goals and we’re going to do our very best to achieve them.”
Kroetsch and Kolakovich led the Pioneers in the loss with 13 and 11 points, respectively.
“That’s a nice team. They play well and play hard. We knew it was going to be a war and now we’ve got an opportunity hopefully to play for something when they come to Cros-Lex,” Campbell said. “There’s a lot of things to play for. We’ve still got a league championship we can play for as long as we continue to do what we’ve been doing.”
Campell's right. Despite last night's championship-like feel, half of the season still remains as teams still have plenty of conference games to play.
Richmond (9-1, 4-0) will host Armada (7-3, 3-1) and Cros-Lex (8-3, 4-1) will return home against North Branch (3-6, 1-4) next Tuesday, Jan. 24.
See the full BWAC standings here.
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