Jon Mierzwa hits six threes, leading Reservoir boys basketball to victory over Atholton in 3A East playoffs. (Brent Kennedy, Baltimore Sun Media Group)
Last year, during Reservoir's run to the 3A East region championship game, Jon Mierzwa rarely saw the floor as one of the team's last guys off the bench.
This winter, as he showcased in the second round of the 3A East region playoffs against Atholton on Wednesday, it's his turn to shine.
Mierzwa delivered a game-high 22 points, including five 3-pointers in the second half, to spark the Gators to a 56-48 victory over a Raiders team that had defeated Reservoir in overtime just two weeks earlier.
"It's a tribute to Jon, because this kid literally sat on the bench the entire year last year because we were so deep at guard. But instead of hanging his head, all he did was work hard every day so that he could be ready to show what he could do this year," Reservoir coach Mike Coughlan said. "He's a great story and it's great to see him getting his chance now and — like all the guys on this team — making the most of it."
The win advances Reservoir (14-9) into a match-up against River Hill, which defeated Glenelg on Wednesday (CLICK FOR STORY), in the section finals. The game is tentatively scheduled for Friday at 6 p.m. depending on the weather.
The contest between rivals Reservoir and Atholton (12-11) had plenty of drama even before tip off. The game, which was scheduled to be played at Reservoir, had to be moved to River Hill less than an hour before game time because of a mechanical malfunction in the gym.
Tip off was pushed from 7 p.m. to 8:30.
But once things got underway, the nip-and-tuck battle that was anticipated quickly materialized.
Mierzwa and Seth Henry (18 points) led the way for the Gators, while the backcourt duo of Chris Carter (13 points) and Brandon Willis (11) paced the Raiders. Neither team led by more than seven points in the first three quarters, with the lead changing hands eight times.
Reservoir held the lead by one, 22-21, at the half and by two, 34-32, after the third quarter.
But, with three minutes to go in the game following a 3-pointer by Jacob Waterworth, it was Atholton that held the lead, 42-41.
"I told the guys before the game to make sure we left it all out on the court and I thought we did that," Atholton coach Jared Albert said. "It was a back-and-forth game … I was proud of our kids for never going away even when they went on their runs. We were able to climb back each time and even took the lead there late."
In the end, however, it was simply Mierzwa's night in the spotlight. The senior guard responded to Waterworth's basket with back-to-back made threes of his own over the next minute of play to put Reservoir back in front.
He later added a lay-up and a couple made foul shots down the stretch to help ice things.
"In warm-ups I felt like I was hot and my teammates were just finding me in spaces and it's easy when they find me in open spots to hit them," Mierzwa said. "They are expecting me to hit them, that's what I am here to do. And when I started getting hot, it was game over."
Coughlan said between Mierzwa and Henry, along with some timely plays from Connor Maloney and Alec Obering, his seniors delivered when it mattered most.
"This group is resilient and it's particularly nice to see the older kids step up," Coughlan said. "To me, that's what you hope for to have your seniors come through when you really need them at this point in the season."
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Going forward, Mierzwa says the Gators are still plenty hungry and are eager to continue what has already been a season where the program has exceeded expectations.
"I don't want this season to end. It's a great group of guys that definitely deserve this," he said. "As a team, we weren't expected to do much only really having Seth coming back … so we have nothing to lose, so why not go out and play as hard as we can."