Canfield, OH (WKBN) – With a chance to clinch a ITCL Red Tier title outright, the Springfield Tigers fought off a spirited effort from South Range to seize their fifth straight league title. Graham Mincher, much like in the first meeting between these two, was the player of the game by scoring 30 points to lead the Tigers to a thrilling last second 51-50 win. In the process, Mincher set an all-time scoring record at Springfield.
“It was really special,” Mincher remarked. “I had so many of my family here tonight for me and so many people in the crowd that are proud of me and the coaches and all my friends. I don’t know, it just feels pretty special breaking a record and being in a spot where no one else has ever been.”
The Tigers improve to 17-3 on the season, 8-0 in league play. With the loss, South Range drops to 14-6 overall, 6-2 in the league.
“It’s pretty special. Winning it (the league) every year that your in high school that’s quite an accomplishment for any sport and it’s something we can all be proud of. It’s a great feeling coming off of last season when we lost a lot of kids from last season,” Mincher explained.
“It just says so much about the kids and the work ethic that they have,” Tigers coach Eric Fender added. “They knew they were behind the eight ball from the start with the amount of experience we lost (from last year). But I knew we would be alright because of the work ethic that they have, the hard work that they put in, the commitment to us, and listening to what we need done. I think they figured it out that our system is pretty successful.”
But before the Tigers could celebrate the title they had a few tense moments at the end of the contest. With South Range leading 50-49 and in possession of the ball with just under one minute to play, the Tigers were forced to foul them. Finally with just 29-seconds remaining the Raiders Anthony Ritter was fouled attempting a layup under the basket. Unfortunately for Ritter, both of his foul shots rattled out of the cylinder.
That is when the Tigers Jake Ford was fouled with only 16-seconds remaining as he penetrated the Raiders defense. Ford would connect on both his free throws to give the Tigers a 51-50 lead. The Raiders Preston Stitt had his desperation shot at the buzzer come up short sending the Tiger student section into pandemonium.
“We ran a play for Graham to come up from a screen and they tried to take him away so I just saw a lane and I went to it. I was a little bit nervous but I was confident that I could make them,” Ford said. “I practice them a lot and I was just happy that they went in.”
“I was just praying we would make our foul shots,” Mincher said laughing. “In that last possession I just had my fingers crossed that he (Stitt) would miss, but I have to give it up to my team mates for making the clutch free throws at the end.”
“Yeah, a couple free throws down the stretch,” Raiders coach John Cullen said of the difference in the game. “But the layup we wanted were uncontested layups, you don’t want to take a contested layup. You want to put it where they have to use up all of their fouls. Their enemy was time.”
After the Tigers surged out to a 7-point 15-8 lead at the close of the first quarter, the Raiders went on a 13-5 run to start the second quarter. When Stitt hit a three-point jumper at the 3:09 mark of the frame, the Raiders took their first lead of the game at 21-20. The Tigers would outscore the Raiders 5-2 the remainder of the quarter to hold a slim 25-23 halftime advantage.
The two teams would exchange the lead four times in the third quarter with the Raiders holding a narrow 41-40 lead at the end of the period. But following a three by Ford to start the fourth quarter the Tigers would reclaim the lead at 43-41. They would continue to lead to the 1:30 mark of the final frame when the Raiders Brandon Youngs popped a jumper to give the Raiders a 50-49 lead and setting up the dramatic ending.
In addition to Mincher’s 30 points, Ford added another 12. Grant Nezbeth led the Tigers in rebounds as he hauled down 2 caroms.
For the Raiders, Anthony Ritter came off the bench to score a team high of 15 points. No other Raiders scored in double digits. Dan Ritter led them in rebounds with 7 on the night.
Both Springfield and South Range have two more non-conference games remaining with Springfield traveling to Girard Tuesday night and hosting Sebring next Friday. South Range will host Cardinal Mooney on Tuesday and LaBrae on Friday.