Mentor traveled to Brunswick on Friday night in search of a share of the NOC Valley Division title.
The Cardinals did not return to Lake County without a piece of the league championship, but they did come back with plenty of motivation for the postseason.
"They are a big, physical team and they made shots early," Coach Bob Krizancic said. "They are very good. We got behind, made a run. Took the lead at one point, but we missed some free throws and some layups and they made theirs. That was a big difference late in a close game.
"You never want to lose the league. That's the first thing. But we have lost our last game in the season a few times before and we were able to turn it into a positive. You can only hope we use this as motivation and make it a positive. We have to do a better job in a lot of areas. But I was glad the game was close. That is good experience for us."
Senior guard Jeff Foreman led all scorers with 27 points, but Mentor was unable to completely rebound from a slow start and fell to the Blue Devils, 68-64.
The Cardinals fell to 17-5 overall and 7-3 in the NOC Valley, which gave the outright league championship to Shaker Heights. The Raiders finished 8-2 in conference play and defeated Mentor twice, despite trailing the Cardinals by 17 points in each of the two meetings.
“This is huge motivation for us going into the tournament because we lost the conference to Shaker Heights, who we had big leads on both times we played and weren’t able to finish them off,” Foreman said. “This is the first time in my career at Mentor that we didn’t at least get a share of the league championship, and I am sure there will be people doubting us now. So we have to use that as motivation moving forward.”
Brunswick got out to a double-digit lead in the first quarter behind some hot outside shooting. The Blue Devils led, 21-12, at the end of the first quarter and by seven at halftime. Mentor pulled to within 51-49 heading into the fourth quarter, but could were unable to complete the rally from the early deficit.
Zach Parker led four Brunswick players in double figures with 19 points. Ryan Badowski, who missed the first matchup between the two teams with a hip injury, added 14 for the Blue Devils.
“Give credit to Brunswick tonight. They hit a bunch of 3s early in the game and it seemed to deflate us and we never got into a rhythm,” Foreman said. “We were ready to play. We just didn’t ever get on a roll. The press didn’t work like it usually does and they were able to get out in transition. It is a game we will learn from and use hopefully to get better and be ready for whatever comes at us in the tournament.”