Blue Devils make it three over the Bears
LISBON–With Lisbon’s offense stuck in a prolonged rut entering the fourth quarter of Tuesday’s Division IV sectional opener, Justin Sweeney took matters into his own hands and ensured that the Blue Devils’ season will continue.
Lisbon’s leading scorer ripped off 10 straight points during a critical juncture to start the fourth quarter as the sixth-seeded Blue Devils wiped out a three-point deficit and pulled away for a 56-48 victory over 11th-seeded Leetonia at Nace Gymnasium.
“One of my roles as a captain and a leader is I have to step up in critical situations when the team needs me and that’s what happened tonight,” Sweeney said. “I knew I needed to do whatever it took to help us get the win.”
Sweeney finished with 32 points, eight rebounds and six assists as the Blue Devils (13-10) earn a third date this season with third-seeded Valley Christian in a sectional final at 7 p.m. Friday. The two teams split their two regular season matchups.
To earn that meeting, the Blue Devils had to survive a Leetonia team that showed up ready to compete hard and carried a 38-35 lead into the fourth quarter.
“They have kids that have played for four years and they wanted to come out and play hard,” Lisbon coach Chris Huckshold said. “We knew they weren’t going to lay down.”
Sweeney wasted no time getting to work in the final frame. He opened his personal 10-0 run by getting a steal and going right to the paint to earn a pair of free throws and snap a four minute scoreless streak for the Blue Devils. He did the same thing on the next possession, resulting in two more free throws and giving the Blue Devils the lead for good.
Two possessions later, he flew into a crowd for a defensive rebound and knifed into the lane for two more. A floater on the next possession made it 10 straight points and stretched the lead to 45-38 with just under four minutes to go. The Bears got no closer the rest of the way.
“Justin did what he’s done all year for us,” Huckshold said. “He got us going early with some buckets and made some smart decisions down the stretch.”
As a whole, the Blue Devils resolved to be more aggressive in driving to the basket after they made just 2-of-16 threes in the second and third quarters combined. They did not attempt a single three in the fourth quarter.
“In the middle part of the game we didn’t always do a good job of taking what the defense was giving us,” Huckshold said. In the timeout after the third quarter we told the guys they had to get to the rim. They were kind of spread out on defense and there were lanes available to us.”
Before their outside shooting went cold, the Blue Devils opened 6-of-8 from beyond the arc in the first quarter as they opened up a 22-15 lead. The Bears battled their way back to take a 29-28 lead at halftime. The third quarter featured five lead changes, with the Bears still clinging to a slim lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Branson Brownfield and Ryan McCullough each added 11 points for Lisbon as the trio of Sweeney-Brownfield and McCullough scored 54 out of Lisbon’s 56 points.
Leading the way for the Bears (5-18) was Roman Ferry with 22 points. Tommy Kornbau added 12 points.
“We were right in it most of the way tonight, I’m just proud of how hard we played,” Leetonia coach Jeff Hammond said. “They just turned up the heat on us in the fourth quarter and we didn’t make enough plays.”
The other big story of the fourth quarter was the Lisbon defense. With Sweeney helping to blanket Ferry, the Blue Devils held the Bears scoreless until the two minute mark. By then, Lisbon enjoyed a nine-point lead.
“I normally don’t guard the other team’s best guy, because it’s mostly Dougie Minor or someone else,” Sweeney said. “But they were in foul trouble so I had to step up. His speed and quickness are crazy. I just had to do what I could to stay with him.”
¯Lisbon defeated Valley Christian 60-52 in the second game of the season, but a much-improved Eagles squad broke open a tie game at halftime and won 77-53 on Jan 26.
“They’re long and athletic,” Huckshold said. “Typically they’re not as good early as they are in February. Coach (Dolph) Carroll does a great job working with them to improve.”
¯Leetonia loses seniors Caleb Witmer, Tommy Kornbau and Damon Custer. Hammond credited the group with helping maintain a positive atmosphere despite a subpar record.
“Those guys were outstanding this year,” Hammond said. “The chemistry with this group was terrific. We had a lot of close games, so hopefully we can learn from these experiences and get over the hump in the future.”
¯Jacob Mundy chipped in six rebounds for the Blue Devils, while Brownfield added three steals.
LEETONIA SCORING: Brock Simpson 0-0-0, Nick Roller 0-0-0, Roman Ferry 9-1-22, Caleb Witmer 2-2-6, Quentin Craik 1-1-3, Damon Custer 2-0-5, Tommy Kornbau 4-4-12, Ian Davis 0-0-0, Marco Ferry 0-0-0. TEAM TOTALS: 18, 8-16: 48.
LISBON SCORING: Justin Sweeney 8-12-32, Branson Brownfield 4-0-11, Dougie Minor 0-0-0, Jacob Mundy 0-0-0, Ryan McCullough 4-2-11, Nick Mundy 0-0-0, Grant Frederick 0-0-0, Brice Blackburn 0-2-2. TEAM TOTALS: 16, 16-20: 56.
Three-point goals: Leetonia 4 (Witmer 3, Custer), Lisbon 8 (Sweeney 4, Brownfield 3, McCullough)