Untimely scoring slumps end Baldwin’s historic season with PIAA loss to McDowell

Saturday, March 9, 2024 | 6:22 PM

The scoreboard in Baldwin’s gym showed a good news, bad news scenario for the Highlanders as the fourth quarter got underway Saturday.

“They only had 41 points through three,” Baldwin coach Jeff Ackermann said of visiting Erie McDowell. “You’d think you could be winning if you hold them to 41. But we had 32. And you’re not going to beat very many 6A boys teams when you’re scoring 10 points a quarter.”

Baldwin endured stretches where its offense got stuck in minutes-long droughts that ultimately let McDowell celebrate a 61-45 victory in the first round of the PIAA Class 6A playoffs.

A layup by Caden Cherico gave Baldwin its only points in a six-minute stretch of the first half, and a jumper by Nate Wesling accounted for the team’s only basket in the entire third quarter. The Highlanders went 7 for 25 from 3-point range and shot only 33% overall from the field.

That let McDowell spark separate runs of 14-2 and 9-0.

“We were a little physical with them,” McDowell coach Kevin O’Connor said. “(Wesling) and (Nathan Richards) are exceptional guards, big-time guards. … We knew they were going to handle the ball the most, so we tried to take them out. They still got cooking a little, but at the end of the day, we’re staying in the kitchen.”

Wesling led WPIAL runner-up Baldwin (18-8) with 17 points, Cherico added nine and Richards had eight.

The loss ended what was a historic season for Baldwin boys basketball. The team won its first WPIAL playoff game in 21 years and reached the finals for the first time since 1985. But still the players were disappointed to see their season end with consecutive losses.

“The last two games didn’t turn out the way that we’d hoped, clearly, but we don’t want to be defined by those two losses,” Ackermann said. “We’ve done a lot of positive things. We’ve come a long way. We’re just not there yet.”

District 10 champion McDowell (21-5) advances to face Reading (18-9) in a second-round game Wednesday.

Despite the offensive struggles, Baldwin was trailing 29-26 at halftime and still within nine points when the fourth quarter started. The Highlanders tried to rally behind their defense but had trouble keeping McDowell’s scorers away from the basket, especially after halftime.

Tyler Grove, a 6-foot-6 senior, scored a game-high 27 points and two teammates also reached double figures. Kamden Kramer added 14 points and Stephon Porter had 13. The two juniors combined for 12 points in the fourth.

“They have two really good scorers in Kramer and Grove, but all of their guys beat us off the dribble in the fourth quarter,” Ackermann said. “It was just rip and go, and we couldn’t stop them.”

McDowellshot 60% overall from the field and also made 10 of 15 free throws.

“We watched a lot of film on Baldwin,” O’Connor said. “We had five days to prepare and were ready for any defense they were going to throw at us.”

Baldwin also was out-rebounded by more than a two-to-one margin.

McDowell won the fourth quarter, 20-13, and its lead peaked at 22 points before a couple of last-minutes 3s by Baldwin.

“Today, it was our inability to score for three-fourths of the game,” Ackermann said. “And then in the fourth quarter, when we tried to do something, we couldn’t get stops.”

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at charlan@triblive.com.


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