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Buckeye Valley’s meetings with North Union a season ago were nothing less than a struggle. This season’s first meeting was the same, though the score did not reflect it.

North Union played a tough, physical defense on the Barons, but after an early deficit, Buckeye Valley took command and finished with a 57-35 Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference Red Division victory Saturday night at Buckeye Valley High School.

“It was a grind because North Union is such a physical team,” Buckeye Valley coach Donovon Barrett said. “I thought we were in command the whole game, but it wasn’t easy. Part of that was some of our guys were stuck in different roles, but like we told them, we were proud of them for stepping up and assuming those different roles.”

Early on, it looked as if Buckeye Valley (3-0, 2-0 MOAC Red) would be in trouble, as North Union (0-2, 0-2) scored six consecutive points after a Jordan Tomlinson jumper that started the game.

Two of North Union’s first three buckets came on layups where Wildcat posts Ridge Caldwell and Nate Curts found themselves with open looks at the basket against the Baron press.

“We did well on defense, but we have to do a better job in the post,” Barrett said. “Most of their points in the first half came from two feet and in, and a lot of those were us not recovering properly or getting lost once in a while in our press. We have to do a better job of that, but that’s something we can focus on and correct.”

But not long after that, the Barons got a three-point goal and two free throws from Tomlinson and a transition bucket from senior Chris Jackson off a Tomlinson feed, giving Buckeye Valley a 9-6 lead with 4:31 left in the period. The Barons never trailed again, holding the Wildcats to just one more point in the first quarter and to 15 in the half.

“They got that early lead on us in the first quarter, but we didn’t panic,” Barrett said. “We have enough guys who can handle the ball and we feel pretty good about their ability.”

Buckeye Valley led 13-7 after one quarter and 28-15 at the half, but North Union would not go away quietly, getting solid chances and defensive stops in the third quarter. The Barons were still able to weather that storm, and foul trouble from junior Zach Hassinger, and advanced the lead to 19 points, 42-23, after three quarters.

“We have a lot of guys who can do different things, and that’s been our M.O. the last few years,” Barrett said. “Sometimes it’s a bit of a challenge to go from guarding posts players to wings or wings to guards. Some of our guys had to handle the ball more, but we were very happy with the way they responded.”

The Wildcats chipped the lead down to 15 twice in the fourth, but could not get any closer as Buckeye Valley ended the game with a 15-12 final period.

Tomlinson, the junior wing, had a huge night all around, finishing with a game-high 29 points, including five threes, adding six assists, five rebounds, a steal and a blocked shot.

Jackson added 12 points, two rebounds and a pair of steals, while senior Matt Novak finished with eight points including a three while hauling down a game-high nine rebounds. Despite his foul trouble, Hassinger finished with six points and four assists. Junior Nic Clunk also added two points, two assists and three rebounds.

“A big number for us tonight was the number of assists we had as a team,” Barrett said. “We had 15 assists tonight, and we’re pretty happy with that.”

Caldwell topped the North Union scoring with 16 points while Curts added five points and a team-high five rebounds.

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