EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (WKBN) – Some things seem to never change. For the Springfield Tigers basketball program the loss of four seniors from last year due to graduation appears to not have interrupted them in the least as they have pushed their record to 3-0 on the season with a 74-45 victory over neighboring rival East Palestine.
The win gives the Tigers an early 1-0 record in the ITCL while the Bulldogs drop to 2-2, 0-1 in league play.
“We lost a lot of people, but we’re stepping up and playing together,” senior Jake Ford remarked. “We’re playing good team basketball.”
“We have some good team leaders. Some guys who have been there before that can lead the more inexperience guys,” Ford added.
“This group of kids here just love to play basketball,” Tigers coach Eric Fender remarked. “They love to be around one another. They have been friends since they have been in third and fourth grade and they don’t really care about statistics. They are just worried about getting the win.”
Those leaders include the Tigers starting seniors in Ford, Frankie Centofanti and Pat Flara. Zack Barber, Ryan Delsignore and Cody Peterson are additional seniors on the team.
The Tigers established themselves early in the contest with the Bulldogs Friday night as they raced out to a 14-0 lead with only 21 seconds remaining in the first period. The Bulldogs would finally get on the scoreboard with just 2 seconds left in the frame when Zach Townsend landed a jumper to make it 14-2 at the end of the quarter.
“They (East Palestine) have some really nice players. (Brandon) Kemp can shoot the ball well, (Dominic) Posey is a streaky player that once he gets going he can put in quite a few in a row. So we had to make sure our defensive mind set and defensive intensity was where we needed it to be. To limit them to two points in the first quarter, I’ll take that any day of the week,” Fender said.
Not to make any excuses, but Bulldogs coach L.J. Sutton admitted the school cancellations due to weather may have contributed to the Bulldogs poor start, “It didn’t help with school being out the past couple of days. We couldn’t get into the gym and get a decent practice in.”
The Tigers continued to pull away in the second period as they pushed their advantage to 20-points at 30-10 with 3 minutes remaining in the quarter. The Bulldogs would close the first half with a 5-0 run to make it 30-15 at the intermission.
The Bulldogs continued to seize the momentum at the start of the second half as they cut the deficit down to 12-points at 33-21, but a blocking foul followed by a technical foul against the Bulldogs gave the Tigers a sudden boost. Ford would sink all four foul shots as they would go up by 16, and eventually by 20 at the end of the third quarter at 48-28.
Ford would hit 19 of 22 free throws on the night as he led the Tigers with 36 points on the night. He scored 23 points in the second half.
“Jake has been our main ball handler from last and now this year,” Fender said. “We rely a lot on him to take pressure off the other guards, and he does that without any complaints.”
Flara would add 9 points for the Tigers while Brandon Walters led the team with 7 rebounds.
The Tigers would push their advantage to as much as 31-points in the closing moments of the contest before the Bulldogs hit a late basket to make it the final 29-point difference.
“I think once we realized we needed to start going to the hoop we started playing better,” Sutton said. “It was a physical game. Guys want to win and we have a competitive bunch this year. Springfield is always well coached. They will not beat themselves, they will not turn it over and they rebound extremely well. We can’t spot them a 10, 15 point lead and expect to fight back and be in it at the end.”
Dominic Posey would lead the Bulldogs with 12 points on the night while Marshall Huddleston grabbed down 6 rebounds.
“One of the main goals for every team I would assume is to win the league,” Fender said. “That’s our main goal every year. Win the league and then go out and see what we can do in the tournament. The kids know they have a target on their back being a five time straight league champs. Again they beat a very good East Palestine team that is going to make some noise.”
Springfield travels to Southern Local on Tuesday night and East Palestine will host Western Reserve the same night in the next action for the two schools.