EAST LIVERPOOL - The East Liverpool Potters led only once after the first quarter, but they led when it mattered, as they claimed a pulsating 68-67 victory over the Steubenville Catholic Central Crusaders Friday at Potter Fieldhouse.
Both teams are 7-4 on the season.
A steal by D.J. Austin was transformed into an up-and-under shot by Hayden Cunningham giving the Potters a 68-67 lead with just 22 seconds remaining in the game. Austin had pulled East Liverpool to within one, 67-66, with a basket following another steal at the 56-second mark.
The Crusaders had one final chance but Kade Reynolds and Aaron Long put the clamps on a lob from out of bounds with 4.7 seconds to claim the victory.
Cunningham paced the Potters with 21 points. Austin contributed 17 points and eight assists. Reynolds scored 15, while Owen Crawford pitched in nine points and pulled down eight rebounds.
"Hayden had a very strong first half," said East Liverpool head coach Nate Conley of Cunningham who tallied 16 in the first half. "They face-guarded him in the second half, which limited his touches. Kade had a tremendous second half and D.J. made things happen."
Ryan Fletcher drained 24 points for the Crusaders. Matthew Martello and John Paul Dombrowski tallied 11 each.
East Liverpool found themselves trailing by 56-45 early in the fourth quarter before Austin and Reynolds erupted for a combined 19 points. Held scoreless in the first half, Austin tallied eight points in the third and nine in the fourth quarter. Reynolds hit two deep threes among his 10 fourth quarter points.
"We had defensive breakdowns in the fourth quarter when the game was on the line," said Central head coach Sean Tucker. "We should be comfortable with six seniors in our rotation. Instead, we let Number 23 (Reynolds) get open and he hit three shots in the fourth quarter."
The Potters outscored Central 23-13 in the final quarter.
"It all boiled down to defense," said Conley. "Earlier Central was getting everything they wanted on their offensive end. Our defense was non-existent the first three quarters."
The Potters jumped out to an early 10-3 lead, before the Crusaders rallied to take an 13-10 lead. Four points by Cunningham and two by Long enabled East Liverpool to even the score at 16-16 at the end of quarter one. Cunningham netted 10 points in the first quarter.
Central's led 32-26 with 46 seconds remaining in the first half. Drives by Cunningham and Crawford pulled East Liverpool to within two, 32-30, at intermission.
Three three-pointers from deep in the corners by Fletcher allowed Central to move out to a 54-45 lead after three quarters.
"We knew that we had to have a big fourth quarter," Reynolds said. "We knew that we had to fight and play with intensity if we wanted to win. Fortunately, I hit some big shots when my team needed me to. D.J. played great. He gets the ball to us where we want it. With Hayden playing so well, it enables the other people to get their shots."
Both teams are on the road tonight as the Potters travel to Cameron (W.Va.) and Central visits Bridgeport.
The Potters shot 25 of 46 (54 percent), including nine of 18 from behind the arc. They only committed 10 turnovers. Long was credited with five blocked shots.
Paced by the scoring of Zack Adkins 19 and Joey Bickerton 14, the Potters won the jayvee game 59-20. Kevin Wells and Brandon Svec scored five each for the Crusaders.
STE. CENTRAL: 16-16-22-13-67
E. LIVERPOOL: 16-14-15-23-68
STEUBENVILLE CENTRAL SCORING: Michael Barber 3-0-7, Brenton Colabella 1-1-3, Tony Barber 2-0-5, Michael Manfresca 3-0-6, Ryan Fletcher 10-1-24, Matthew Martello 4-1-11, John Paul Dombrowski 5-1-11.TEAM TOTALS: 28, 4-8: 67.
EAST LIVERPOOL SCORING: Owen Crawford 4-1-9, Isaac Davidson 1-0-2, D.J. Austin 6-2-17, Hayden Cunningham 7-4-21, John Rickerd 0-0-0, Zack English 0-0-0, Kade Reynolds, 5-2-15 Austin Emmerling 1-0-2, Aaron Long 1-0-2. TEAM TOTALS: 25, 9-15: 68.
Three-point goals: Steubenville Central 7 (Fletcher 3, Matthew Martello 2, Michael Barber, Tony Barber), East Liverpool 9 (Austin 3, Cunningham 3, Reynolds 3).