Warriors toast league championship
BELOIT — West Branch had a several reasons to celebrate Friday night.
West Branch clinched the outright Eastern Buckeye Conference title and senior point guard Reese Leone became the school’s all-time leading score in a 57-36 win over rival Salem.
“I’m at a loss for words, the feeling is unmatched,” said Leone who led all scorers with 20 points. “We worked so hard since last summer and when coach (Michael) Brown got the job, the first thing he said was we’re going to win a league title,” he added.
When the finals seconds ticked off the clock, West Branch fans stormed the court and the celebration that was two decades in the making was on.
It was the Warriors’ first league title in 20 years and their first outright crown in 29 years.
“They’re good,” said Salem coach Jeff Andres. “They’ve got shooters and Reese (Leone) is fantastic and (Nick) Everett is big and good.”
The significance of the achievement was not lost on Brown.
“It makes it special when it’s rare like this,” said Brown. “It’s been 29 years since we’ve won it outright.”
With the win, the Warriors are now 16-4 and they finished the EBC season at 10-2, one game ahead of second-place Alliance.
“Coach Brown said before the game, this moment is going to be one of most satisfying moments in your life and this is at the top right now,” said Leone.
With the setback, young Salem, fell to 4-16 and 2-10 in the EBC.
The last time West Branch won a league title in boys’ basketball, the players on this year’s team weren’t even born. It’s the fifth title the school has won in the sport in its 60-year history.
Leone became West Branch’s all-time leading scorer when he nailed a three-pointer at the 5:10 mark of the first quarter, giving West Branch a 7-0 lead at the time. It surpassed the record of 1,110 points previously held by T.J. DeShields.
“It was not necessarily one of the goals I had coming in but I’ve worked my whole life to be a good high school varsity basketball player and I want to do this at the next level and this (the scoring record) is just something that came with it,” said Leone.
“It was almost like a storybook or a movie for him,” said Brown. “You couldn’t plan it any better, you’re playing against your rival, it’s senior night and you’re playing with all your buddies you’ve played with since third grade and to become the all-time leading scorer is a testament to the hard work ethic he has.”
Following Leone in the double-digit scoring column for West Branch were Everett with 16 points, including a slam dunk, and Nick Pidgeon finished with six points on a pair of West Branch’s six treys in the game.
“He gets (Everett) gets banged around a lot inside because he’s so big but what an impact he makes just being on the floor,” praised Brown.
Salem was led by Hunter Griffith with 10 points, while Drew Weir added eight markers.
With Leone leading the way offensively, West Branch went on to outscore the Quakers 17-3 in the first period.
But Salem upped its defensive intensity and answered West Branch’s strong first quarter by outscoring the Warriors 15-6 in the second quarter, led by Hunter Griffith who scored nine first-half points as the Salem cut the West Branch deficit to just five points (23-18) at intermission.
“We could have tanked their in the second quarter, they were up 19-3 and our kids fought back and really showed a lot of character,” praised Andres of the Quakers great comeback in the second frame. “We showed a lot of fight.”
But West Branch 6-8 big man Everett really took over in the third quarter, altering Salem shots inside, while the Warriors outscored the Quakers 22-8 in the frame to take a comfortable 19-point (45-26) lead after three.
“We missed some shots in the second quarter, we were hesitant at times and then that lid kind of popped off and we relied on our man-to-man defense in the second half and we boxed out and did the simple things,” said Brown.
“I thought we were right where we wanted to be at halftime,” said Andres, “but we just had a hard time finishing in the second half around the rim.”
West Branch then outscored the Quakers 12-10 in the final frame and took its largest lead of the night at 24 points (55-31) when Everett converted two free throws with 2:38 left.
Both coaches emptied their benches in the closing minutes.
Andres, who returns many of the players from this year’s team, says his squad has improved greatly throughout the season.
“We’re excited about the future and the kids we’ve got and the effort they give and the growth we’ve made this season,” he said. “We’ve gotten better and better.”
• West Branch won the JV game, 54-39. J.D. Brain led West Branch with 13 points, while Logan Blissenbach topped the Quakers with nine markers.
• West Branch swept the season series from the Quakers. The Warriors defeated Salem 61-39 back in January in Cabas Gymnasium.
• Salem returns to action Tuesday night when the Quakers travel to East Palestine (3-18) for an independent meeting.
“We’re going to prepare for them (the Bulldogs) and play hard,” said Andres.
West Branch also plays Tuesday when the Warriors visit Columbiana in a battle of league champions. West Branch won the EBC crown this winter and Columbiana won the Eastern Ohio Athletic Conference crown.
WEST BRANCH: 17-6-22-12–57
SALEM SCORING: Hunter Griffith 4-1-10, Sam Walter 1-1-3, Brock Young 0-1-1, Kaleb Caldwell 0-0-0, Drew Weir 3-1-8, Davin Koskinen 1-0-2, Jon Null 1-3-5, Dillon Monroy 2-1-5, Jaren Snyder 0-0-0, Caleb Stockman 1-0-2. TEAM TOTALS: 13, 8-15: 36.
WEST BRANCH SCORING: Nick Everett 5-6-16, Nick Wilson 0-0-0, Nick Scarpitti 0-0-0, Jaxon Hendershott 3-0-7, Reese Leone 8-5-20, Cohen Lamp 2-0-4, Jed Smith 0-0-0, Nick Pidgeon 2-0-6, Dru DeShields 1-0-2, Andrew Coffee 0-0-0, Blayne Flickinger 0-0-0, Justin Goode 0-0-0, Josh Gregory 1-0-2. TEAM TOTALS: 20,11-17: 57.
Three-point goals: Salem 2 (Hunter Griffith 1, Drew Weir 1). West Branch 6 (Reese Leone 3, Nick Pidgeon 2, Jaxon Hendershott 1). Total fouls: Salem 16, West Branch 14. Fouled out: Jaxon Hendershott.