WILLOUGHBY, Ohio — Solon has not lost a boys basketball game since it last faced Mentor.
Trent Williams watched, as he did for more than a month while the Comets went 5-4 during the senior guard’s absence. He returned to the lineup Feb. 8 against Medina — the same team in which he injured his wrist against on Jan. 4 — and invigorated Solon.
“Our energy wasn’t where it usually is,” Williams said Saturday night after a 78-57 sectional final win at Willoughby South, “so I just tried to pick it back up when I got back.
The Comets (16-8) have won seven straight games and get another shot at Mentor, the top-seeded squad in the Division I Euclid District. They meet Wednesday in the tournament semifinals.
An upset win for the fourth-seeded Comets, and they can continue their bid for a return to Columbus.
During the streak, they own wins against St. Edward, Shaker Heights, Medina and now Willoughby South — all ranked teams in the final cleveland.com Top 25 — with Saturday’s win against the Rebels.
“It’s been an easier adjustment than I thought,” coach Tony DeCesare said. “One of the things we talked to the guys about was when he returns, he’s going to take a lot of minutes, he’s going to take up a lot of shots, guys’ roles are going to change and everyone’s going to have to be OK with that.”
Williams is one of four starters back from last season’s run to the state finals. The new starter among that bunch had to adjust the most, both when Williams got hurt and when he returned.
Both DeCesare and sophomore guard Marcus Steele think he is better for it. Steele shouldered more of a burden when Williams watched with his arm in a sling, starting with a loss to Lake Catholic at the Scholastic Play By Play Classic in early January.
That nine-game stretch only helped Steele improve for now.
“When Trent came back, that’s a lot of pressure off me,” Steele said. “I just started to open up and create for my open teammates.”
He also is providing more pressure on the defensive end, something DeCesare said his Comets missed from Williams just as much as his 3-point shooting.
See the video above for more on Williams’ return, plus more below as the sectional rounds transition to the district semifinals and finals.
Catch up with updated brackets, takeaways and a daily schedule of the week’s games through the semifinals.
ABOUT THAT MENTOR MATCHUP
Mentor and Solon have played for the last three district championships in Euclid.
Solon has a 2-1 edge in those postseason matchups, but the Cardinals (21-2) won both meetings this season. They also got a head start on familiarizing themselves with Euclid’s gym, beating Mayfield in their sectional final Saturday at Euclid because a Division I wrestling district championship was held in their own gym.
DeCesare said he does not plan to ask for an opportunity to practice in Euclid’s gym ahead of Wednesday’s semifinal. Such a special practice is customary for teams in the postseason when their opponent previously played on a neutral site floor.
His seniors had that opportunity as freshmen, when they played St. Ignatius in a regional semifinal at Cleveland State after the Wildcats beat St. Edward in a district final at the Wolstein Center.
DeCesare said he did not think the 20-mile drive north was worth the time for his players, who can practice in their own gym, rest and focus.
Mentor junior guard Luke Floriea scored 26 points and sophomore Luke Chicone had 21 to lead the Cardinals on Feb. 1 in an 83-68 win at Solon. Junior forward Chad Rogers had 27 points in the first matchup, an 81-61 Mentor win, on Dec. 21, 2018.
TURNING OUT THE LIGHTS AT SOUTH
Win or lose, Willoughby South coach Doug Barber knew Saturday marked his program’s last game in its gym. It’s the same gym he played in through 2004, winning Plain Dealer Player of the Year for Lake and Geauga counties.
“You really don’t think about it,” Barber said. “It may hit me because I went here, I played here, it may hit me in a couple weeks. I grew up in this gym. It’s special, but hopefully we have a new gym that we can make more memories moving forward.”
UPSET OF THE NIGHT
For the second straight night, a high seed fell.
Walsh Jesuit handed third-seeded Archbishop Hoban a 57-52 upset in the Division I Barberton District as Tommy Cummings led the Warriors with 22 points. Donovan Morris added 11 for the sixth seed.
Walsh Jesuit will face No. 2 Copley on Thursday. The Indians dispatched Wadsworth, 62-55, behind Sam Emich’s 19 points, VannAuburey Thomas’ 17 and D.J. Jones’ 15.
Walsh Jesuit’s win at Hoban follows Aurora’s upset of second-seeded Gilmour on Friday in the Division II Stow District.
Meanwhile Tallmadge beat No. 2 Louisville in the Division II Canton District. The Blue Devils advance to reach the Fieldhouse in Canton.
STATEMENTS OF THE NIGHT
Cleveland Heights closed the regular season with a tough loss at Garfield Heights. Earlier last month, the Tigers fell to East Tech on a buzzer-beater by D.J. Harrell.
They didn’t let it get nearly that close.
Nigel Martin scored 22 points, Jae’Lyn Withers had 18 and Cleveland Heights blew past the Scarabs, 84-46.
Heights outscored the Senate League champs 49-19 in the second half. The third seed in the Euclid District, Heights will face No. 2 Brush on Thursday.
Ronnier Barrett-Reed scored 27 points and Avon ran away in the Elyria Catholic District’s four-vs.-five matchup. Coach Kevin Sapara’s Eagles dispatched Elyria, 75-47.
Avon (16-7) took control with a 23-4 run in the second quarter.
The reward is a district semifinal with top-seeded Lorain, which beat Berea-Midpark behind Devon Grant’s 23 points. The Titans just beat Avon two weeks ago in the last week of the regular season.