Lisbon embracing underdog role

LISBON — Lisbon girls basketball coach Jamie Entrikin didn’t have to look far to find someone to inspire the Blue Devils as they prepare to make their first regional appearance since 1991.

Before Tuesday’s practice, Entrikin invited Lisbon High School art teacher Elana Brownfield (mother of senior boys basketball player Branson Brownfield) to address the team.

Brownfield was a member of the 1989 Berlin Hiland girls basketball state runner-up, the first of what would be several state appearances for the school.

Like the Blue Devils, Hiland was considered an underdog during that first state tournament run. Brownfield relayed the story of Hiland’s regional victory that season over Zanesville Rosecrans on a banked-in three at the buzzer. She spoke about the never-say-die attitude her team possessed and told the Blue Devils that anything was possible if they put their mind to it.

Her message was well received by a squad that has grown to embrace the underdog label.

“She (Brownfield) talked about how they were the underdogs that year and how they helped build a legacy at their school,” Lisbon sophomore point guard Izzy Perez said. “It really motivated us. We know a lot of people are saying, ‘How the heck is Lisbon still alive?’ That’s what fuels us. We want to show people that we’re not done.”

The seventh-seeded Blue Devils kept surprising people at every step of the way along their run through the Division IV Mineral Ridge district, which culminated in a thrilling 48-47 victory over fifth-seeded Valley Christian in Saturday’s district final.

Lisbon (17-9) will look to continue its Cinderella run at 8 p.m. today when the Blue Devils battle Dalton (21-4) in a regional semifinal at Massillon Perry High School.

“We’re so excited to still be playing at this time of the year,” junior forward Autumn Oehlstrom (who sank the game-winning free throws against Valley Christian) said. “We’re all really determined to keep it up this week.”

Coming into the season, the Blue Devils didn’t seem like the most likely candidate to be the last Columbiana County team (boys or girls) left standing.

The graduations of do-everything guard Karlee Pezzano (the program’s all-time leading scorer) and interior force Mackenzie Mason left sizable holes in both the scoring and rebounding departments. The departures also included valuable depth pieces Alexa Bell and Alli Davis.

While Lisbon is thinner and less explosive offensively than a year ago, this year’s team has compensated by leaning on one another and playing to their strengths.

“We knew we all had to score a little more because Karlee and Mackenzie averaged so much per game,” sophomore center Maddie Liberati said. “We all just kind of click now. We work together on the floor very well.”

As the season has wound towards its conclusion, the Blue Devils have developed an identity predicated on hard-nosed defense.

“Our offensive numbers are down this year, but our defensive numbers are much better,” Entrikin said. “Our defense and our trust in each have been out biggest strengths down the stretch. Early in the season we were forcing things too much, but now we’re taking what’s there.”

In her second season as a starter, Perez’s game has ascended up a level, with still more room to grow.

She has assumed Pezzano’s duties as the Blue Devils go-to scorer, in addition to being the team’s primary facilitator.

“Izzy isn’t on Karlee’s level yet as a scorer, but she’s getting there,” Entrikin said. “She has matured and turned into one of the best point guards in the area, her ball-handling and shooting have both improved. Izzy knows what her weaknesses are and she’s not afraid to keep working on them.”

“I’ve let my coach coach me this year,” Perez said. “I’ve taken every little word he’s said and tried to use it to get better.”

Another crucial part of the Blue Devils development this season has rested on Liberati’s ability to step into the post and pick up some of the slack left behind by Mason.

“I used to be really scared out there, but after Mackenzie left, I knew I had to step up and work more on my post moves,” Liberati said.

In Oehlstrom and junior Chloe Smith, Entrikin knew he had a pair of athletic players he could rely on to be very capable on the defensive end. The offensive part of the game is just now starting to develop for both of them.

“If those two keep getting better offensively, we could be pretty scary,” Entrikin said.

The starting lineup is rounded out by junior guard Hailee Carpenter, who is not a flashy player, but has been praised by Entrikin for her advanced feel for the game.

“Hailee is like having another coach out there on the floor for us,” Entrikin said.

The euphoria from clinching the school’s first district title in 27 years has been understandably hard to come down from, but Entrikin said the Blue Devils began to re-focus themselves as tonight’s game drew closer

“They have been on cloud nine and I’ve been trying to reel them back in,” Entrikin said. “I think they realize that they’ve accomplished something special that doesn’t happen here a lot and I think they’ve embraced it. But also, I noticed at practice Monday that they have started to come back down to earth. They don’t feel just happy to be here, they want to keep going. Come Thursday, I think they’ll be ready to go.”

Notes

¯ Lisbon’s lone senior is captain and backup guard Alyssa Chestnut. Entrikin praised her helping establish a positive culture around the team.

“She has been a fantastic captain,” Entrikin said. “Alyssa is very unselfish and I think her attitude has transferred itself down through the rest of the players.”

¯ Perez said she talks basketball frequently with her uncle Nate Conley, who is East Liverpool’s boys coach.

“I get some kind of call after every game if he’s not there,” Perez said. “If he is there, he grades me on how I did. He’s always pushing me to get better.”

¯ Dalton is making its second straight regional trip. The Bulldogs fell to Jackson-Milton 44-40 in the regional semifinals last season. They clinched their district title with a 47-45 victory over Wayne County Athletic League rival Rittman. Camille Beatty hit a three-pointer with 10 second left to give the Bulldogs the win.

Dalton is also in the same conference as Doylestown Chippewa, who faced South Range in a Division III regional semifinal on Wednesday. Chippewa beat Dalton twice by scores of 47-39 and 41-28.

“They are very fundamentally sound and they shoot the ball extremely well,” Entrikin said. “Their senior post player (Kirsten Shoup) reminds me a lot of Alexis Cross from Columbiana. She’s only 5-6, but she plays like she’s 5-10.”

Shoup averages 9.4 points and 3.3 rebounds a game.

¯ Dalton’s top player is 5-foot-8 sophomore point guard Makenna Geiser. The All-Ohio candidate is averaging 16.5 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.7 assists this season.