CANTON - Jordan Sapp did all he could.
And then some.
On a night when nothing seemed to go right for Struthers, Sapp tried his best to keep his team in Thursday's Division II regional semifinal at the Canton Civic Center. He scored his team's first 17 points of the second half. The first Wildcat points by someone other than Sapp did not come until 64 seconds before game's end.
Mentor Lake Catholic had no answer for him.
But he wasn't enough.
The Cougars executed their defensive game plan to perfection and Struthers (sans Sapp) failed to hit a large majority of the few open looks it got. Lake Catholic (22-2) never trailed in a 68-39 victory. The Cougars will play Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary Saturday for a shot at reaching their first state tournament.
"Jordan came out and played really well," said Struthers coach Joe Savko. "He took the pressure off Jake (Jacubec). He played great tonight."
Jacubec had enough pressure from the Cougars all night. Like any team preparing to play Struthers, Lake Catholic wanted to somehow slow down the 26-point-per-game senior point guard. The Cougars are the only one this season who actually did so. Jacubec finished with two points and missed 12 of his 13 floor shots.
"We didn't want him to have space, to get loose, to feel comfortable, not only because he scores but because he creates so many opportunities," said LC coach Mark Chicone. "We did as much as we could. We wanted to pressure him all over, deny him the ball, tire him out.
"Nobody here said, 'Hey, we're going to shut him down'. We're not that stupid. He has great ability."
Jacubec and Joey Vuyancih, his opposing point guard, were their respective district's player of the year. Vuyancih fared much better, finishing with 13 points, 13 rebounds and six assists. Unlike Struthers, the Cougars had several players step up, most notably 6-foot junior Mark Baniewicz, who finished with 21 points and eight rebounds.
"That guy is the ultimate competitor," Chicone said of Baniewicz. "He's not big; he's not fast. But he brings heart to the floor. He's a beast. He's the toughest six-footer I've ever coached."
The Wildcats (19-5) fell behind 14-7 after a quarter. Lake Catholic reached intermission with a 28-17 lead. The Cougars' advantage swelled to 18 points in the third quarter before Sapp took over. By quarter's end the Wildcats were within 41-30 and Sapp had all 13 points for his team. Two Sapp foul shots got Struthers within nine early in the final quarter before the Cougars put the game away with a 13-0 run, eight of those points coming from Mike Whalen.
Sapp, a 6-2 senior, finished with 26 points, or two-thirds of his team's total.
"We knew Jake was going to get double teamed and our shots weren't falling," Sapp said. "I knew I had to attack the hoop. I was trying to get my team fired up."
The Wildcats, who burned opponents all season long from outside the 3-point arc, made just 2 of 17 3-pointers on the night and just 14 of 51 field goals.
"We didn't make shots we usually make," Savko said. "I'm not taking anything away from Mentor Lake Catholic. They came out to get after us and they did."
The Struthers crowd was quiet for the better part of the final quarter. It erupted with 15 seconds remaining when senior Anthony Cutrone made one of two foul shots, the first and last point of his high-school career.
Whalen finished with 13 points for the winners and Danny Schweikert had 10 boards.
Although the loss will sting for a while, Sapp and his fellow seniors will be able to joyfully look back on a great two-year stretch.
"This group is amazing," Savko said. "We have four district championships in Struthers history and this group has two of them."