The Suburbanite
  • Last year’s defeat ringing, Tigers come out swinging

  • A season of tests, tough road games and close contests paid off for the Lake Center Christian Tigers in a 53-34 victory over Leetonia in a Struthers Division IV sectional opener.

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  • A season of tests, tough road games and close contests paid off for the Lake Center Christian Tigers in a 53-34 victory over Leetonia in a Struthers Division IV sectional opener.
    After facing a steady line of Portage Trail Conference foes and other good teams in a regular season that left them 10-11 but battle-tested for the postseason, the Tigers saw that experience pay off against the Bears.
    While the Tigers (11-11) started quickly, Leetonia responded and clawed its way back into the game. An early 17-6 LCCS lead became a four-point margin at halftime as the Bears were able to use their zone defense effectively and slow up the LCCS offense enough to close the half trailing 25-21.
    “They made a run at us in the second and were able to tie it in third, but we have been in that situation over and over all year, and our guys were able to respond well to that,” LCCS coach Eric Schlabach said. “The schedule and challenges helped us a lot.”
    With the pressure on and facing the same sort of game that led to their ouster in last season’s sectional opener, the Tigers responded well behind the efforts of three of their senior leaders. Forward Scott Hefty, who paced his team with a game-high 17 points, hit four 3-pointers and was aggressive in taking the ball to the basket to jump-start the LCCS offense when it lagged in the middle of the contest.
    Alex Armstrong, who hit three triples for all nine of his points, helped stop Leetonia’s push with his second make from beyond the arc, and with their ship steadied, the Tigers used strong interior play from the third member of their senior trio, 6-foot-4 forward Trevor Rainieri, to put the Bears away. Rainieri had 14 points.
    With Hefty, Armstrong and Rainieri pacing them offensively, the Tigers also clamped down defensively and choked out Leetonia using the strong on-ball defensive approach Schlabach has made a focal point in his two years leading the program.
    Rebounding, another hallmark of the Tigers’ success in their victories this season, was central to their defensive effort against a team which they held a significant size advantage. LCCS outrebounded the Bears 37-18, consistently cleaning the glass and preventing second looks for a team that needed all of the shots it could get. Mark Slayman topped LCCS with 11 rebounds.
    “Our guys got a lot of stops, and they hardly had any offensive rebounds at all. We made it difficult for them to score,” Schlabach said. “We knew that if we defended well and rebounded defensively, we could pull away, but really, we expected a closer game.”
    Leetonia seemed to struggle as it played a different style than the up-tempo, pressing one it used for much of the regular season. With that style, the Bears (9-14) averaged better than 63 points a game. The decision to abandon it was a confusing one. The two teams had scrimmaged prior to the season, giving both sides familiarity with the other’s style of play.
    Page 2 of 2 - The LCCS lead grew to 12 by the end of the third, and with the memory of last year’s last-second defeat by East Canton on the same court fresh in their minds, the Tigers maintained their defensive intensity and held Leetonia to six points in the fourth to close out their first postseason win under Schlabach.
    Ian Sevenich led Leetonia with 11 points.
    With the win, LCCS advances to a sectional final against third-seeded Lowellville, another team which the Tigers will have a significant size edge. Schlabach also hopes to have a healthier Hefty, as the Tigers’ leading scorer has been battling strep throat over the past week and was at less than full strength against Leetonia.
    “Scott was very aggressive and has been very confident in practice the past week, but he’s been battling strep throat and not feeling great,” Schlabach said. “But one thing I reminded the guys of this week was how well we played last year, how we controlled the game for the first three-plus quarters, and they knew they let one get way from them. When they faced that situation this year, they responded.”

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