Clippers get Tigers off their back, affect league title
COLUMBIANA –On the heels of a heartbreaking overtime loss to Lisbon on Friday, the Columbiana boys basketball team returned to the gym this week vowing to wash the bad taste from their mouth as soon as possible.
The Clippers did just that Tuesday, leading almost wire-to-wire and holding off a second half rally to upset second-place Wellsville 61-57 in Eastern Ohio Athletic Conference action at Columbiana High School.
“This was a big one for us, it puts a smile on all of our faces,” Columbiana junior guard Ryan Fahs said. “That was a really tough loss to Lisbon Friday, we hadn’t beaten them in forever and coach (Todd Johnson) used to coach there, so we really wanted that one bad. It was great to see everyone bounce back tonight and take care of business against a good team.”
The Clippers improve to 9-7 overall and 5-6 in the EOAC, Wellsville falls to 8-5, 6-4.
Wellsville’s loss, combined with United’s loss to Southern hands Toronto at least a share of the conference title. The Red Knights own a commanding four-game lead with four games to play. Wellsville, United and Southern are in a three-way tie for second.
The Clippers sprinted out to a 15-6 lead after the first quarter and still led by nine with 2:36 left in the third quarter. The Tigers made themselves heard by the end of the night, however. A 10-2 Wellsville run shrunk the lead to 43-42 by the end of the third quarter.
The Tigers stayed close all the way to the buzzer.
Columbiana’s lead never got larger than four over the last two minutes of the game, but the Clippers held sturdy under the pressure and never relinquished the lead.
Fahs kept the Clippers two possessions in front by going 4-for-4 from the line in the final minutes. Guard Hunter Zentner nailed the two clinching free throws with 3 seconds left.
“This has been a resilient group all season long,” Columbiana coach Todd Johnson said. “When we get down or a team takes it to us, we don’t sweat it. This group battles until the final whistle blows. That’s one of the things I’m most proud of.”
The Clippers were powered by the trio of Fahs, Zentner and forward Matt Mazei.
Fahs and Zentner each scored 17 points, while Zentner added 12 rebounds and five assists. Mazei was a solid presence all night down low and finished with 14 points and nine rebounds.
“His (Mazei’s) offensive rebounding was a big part of the game,” Wellsville coach David “Bug” Thompson said. “We couldn’t keep him off the boards.”
“We don’t really have a dominant scorer, we have multiple guys that can put the ball in the basket,” Johnson said. “They’ve all been doing it consistently. We implored them to be aggressive and attack the basket tonight.”
With Columbiana up 59-56, the Tigers had a shot to tie the game when Garrett Scott was fouled on a three-point attempt with 3.7 seconds left, but he missed two of the three attempts, setting the stage for Zentner to close it out at the other end.
Justin Wright led the Tigers with 22 points, while Derrick Suggs added 12 points. Luke Green and Darien Suggs each had eight points and six rebounds.
The Tigers were plagued by six straight empty possessions in the fourth quarter with the Clippers clinging to a 54-50 lead.
“We battled hard after getting down early, but we have to start making better decisions with the ball,” Thompson said. “We have to start playing better as a team. That’s something that we’ve gotten away from in the last few games. Give credit to Columbiana, I was really impressed with how they came out tonight. They had a great gameplan.”
Wellsville will try and break out of the second-place logjam Friday at United, while the Clippers get a crack at first-place Toronto.
“We just want to keep getting better every day,” Fahs said. “Hopefully we can get a good seed in the tournament and get a home game.”
¯The Clippers lost 64-56 to Wellsville in the first meeting on December 14. Four of Columbiana’s six conference losses this season have come by single digits.
“At the beginning of the year, we weren’t learning how to win yet,” Johnson said. “That’s a huge step. Competing and getting there are one thing, but you have to be able to make the plays to get you over the top. This program is very close. We’ve got two seniors and a bunch of juniors. We feel very good about where things are going.”
¯Tyler Anderson hit the go-ahead three with 30 seconds left as Columbiana won the two-quarter jv game 10-9.
COLUMBIANA SCORING: Hunter Zentner 6-5-17, Carter Pasco 0-2-2, Seth Ross 0-0-0, Ryan Fahs 6-4-17, Sean Whitehead 3-0-7, Erik Hopfenziz 1-0-2, Quenton Cross 1-0-2, Matt Mazei 7-0-14. TEAM TOTALS: 24-46, 11-15: 61.
WELLSVILLE SCORING: Luke Green 3-0-8, Darien Suggs 4-0-8, Garrett Scott 2-3-7, Derrick Suggs 4-3-12, Justin Wright 10-2-22, Justin Talbert 0-0-0. TEAM TOTALS: 23, 8-17: 57.
Three-point goals: Wellsville 3 (Green 2, Derrick Suggs), Columbiana 2-9 (Fahs, Whitehead)