Leetonia scratched by Tigers

LEETONIA — After last season ended for the Wellsville boys basketball team, it knew this season would be one to remember despite having a target on its back.

Favorites to win the Inter-Tri County League White Division from the start, the Tigers clinched at least a share of the title by defeating Leetonia 80-56 on Friday. It is Wellsville’s first league title since 2014.

“It’s great for the team. We want to advance in the tournament. That’s the main goal but winning the league is great,” Wellsville head coach Dave Thompson said. “We were planning on winning it. I mean every year you plan on winning the conference, but this year we felt like we had a great chance.”

The Tigers (15-2, 6-0) can win the division outright with a win over Columbiana on Tuesday at home or a Lisbon loss at home to Leetonia (4-13, 1-5).

“It’s the first one of our careers. It’s a big step moving forward and gives us a huge momentum boost going into the tournament,” senior Jake Green said. “We knew we would be the heavy favorites and that there was a target on our backs. We just had to play with a chip on our shoulders and play better than our opponents. Winning helps keep our minds off of it and lets us have fun.”

After the Bears jumped out to an early 8-2 lead in the first quarter, Wellsville took over. Leetonia cut the gap to only seven at halftime, but the Tigers’ frontcourt was too much to handle. A 15-2 scoring run midway in the third quarter put the game out of reach.

All three members of Wellsville’s frontcourt finished with a double-double. Justin Miller led the charge with 30 points, 11 rebounds and four assists. Green recorded 20 points and 10 rebounds for his first career double-double. Garrett Scott had 17 points and a career-high 13 boards.

“We started off pretty slow, but in the second half we ran the fast break and passed the ball more,” Green said. “We outrebounded them, and that was pretty much it.”

Wellsville was without senior Michael Shope due to flu-like symptoms. Brandon Patterson started in his place and played well defensively. Thompson expects Shope, who traveled with the team, back for Tuesday’s contest.

Even with their starting forward out, the Tigers did not switch their strategy.

“We didn’t change anything tonight. We played the same way,” Thompson said. “We don’t like to change too much. Patterson stepped in and played well defensively. As long as everybody else is getting their points, we can plug other people in and play with the same game plan.”

For Leetonia, Damon Custer led with 19 points off the bench. Isaac Stecker had 10 points and seven rebounds. Tanner Barr and Devon Champney combined for nine points and 10 rebounds.

Despite the defeat, head coach Jeff Hammond felt good about his team’s effort, especially after falling to Wellsville 89-46 on Dec. 23.

“They went out there and competed against a really good team,” he said. “Their pressure got to us a little bit. I think then we got our legs under us and settled in a little bit. We were able to close the gap a bit and be only down by seven at half.”

“They came out on fire, and it kind of caught us off guard,” Thompson said. “Once we got running and took control of the game after they went on a run to get back into it, we sealed the deal.”

Game notes

• Wellsville also won the jayvee game 61-16. Gary Wilson led the Tigers with 14 points. Leetonia’s Alex Waterback had four.

• Wellsville defeated Columbiana 82-60 on Jan. 6 in Columbiana. On the same day, Lisbon took down Leetonia 60-48 in Leetonia.

WELLSVILLE: 21-15-24-20–80

LEETONIA:     12-17-15-12–56

WELLSVILLE SCORING: Jake Green 8-2-20, Garrett Scott 8-1-17, Branzen Grodhaus 3-0-6, Brandon Patterson 0-0-0, Justin Miller 12-2-30, Jace Cartwright 1-0-2, Ish Heard 0-0-0, Tristan Hinkle 1-0-3, Dorien Suggs 0-2-2, Matt Rawson 0-0-0, Justin Wright 0-0-0. TEAM TOTALS: 33, 7-13: 80.

LEETONIA SCORING: Roman Ferry 1-3-5, Isaac Stecker 4-2-10, Danny McCool 1-1-4, Tanner Barr 2-1-5, Devon Champney 2-0-4, Brock Simpson 1-0-3, Austin Keats 1-1-4, Damon Custer 7-0-19, Caleb Witmer 1-0-2, Zack Pugh 0-0-0. TEAM TOTALS: 20, 8-14: 56.

Three-point goals: Wellsville 7 (Green 2, Miller 4, Hinkle), Leetonia 8 (McCool, Simpson, Keats, Custer 5).