Strong defense enables Leetonia to upset Lisbon

Lisbon's poor shooting dooms them in upset loss

LEETONIA, Ohio (WKBN) – The Leetonia Bears girls basketball team just gained confidence by leaps and bounds Thursday night. They used a strong fourth quarter effort to upend the Lisbon Blue Devils 38-35 who came into the game as the second place team in the ITCL’s White Tier.

With the win, the Bears improve to 13-5 on the season and 5-2 in the ITCL. The Devils drop to 14-2, 4-2 in the league.

“This is fantastic,” an overjoyed Bears coach John Hritz exclaimed. “I told the kids to believe in themselves and play hard. Cut down on the turnovers and play good defense. I’m so proud of these kids. I can’t believe it. We haven’t beaten Lisbon probably in fifteen years. I don’t know the last time we have beaten Lisbon.”

“I can honestly say this is the best senior present I could ask for,” a smiling Kristy Eckman said. “I couldn’t be happier.”

With the game tied at 33-33 and a minute and a half to play, the Bears found Tori Norman on a wide open back door cut. She would miss the layup, but teammate Kristy Eckman followed up with a rebound and a basket to give the Bears a 35-33 lead with 1:23 remaining in the contest.

“I told them in our timeout, ‘Let’s spread the floor out and if we have an option of a one on one or any backdoor cuts.’ That last basket was a backdoor cut, they were overplaying the ball and we happened to see (Norman) cutting and fortunately we made the layup,” Hritz explained.

“I was thinking let’s get back and hold them,” Ekman said about her basket. “I was thinking about what’s next. I wasn’t even thinking about what just happened.”

The Bears would again find an open shot with just 49-seconds remaining when Kayla Jackson converted another layup to boost the Bears lead to 37-33. The Devils Chloe Smith connected on a jumper with 37—seconds to make it 37-35, but Eckman would hit one of two free throws with 18 ticks remaining to give the Bears a 38-35 lead. The Bears defense then never gave the Devils a good look at the basket in the final seconds as a desperation three fell wide of its mark at the buzzer.

Hritz admitted that he put in a new wrinkle just for this game, “We put the 1-3-1 in yesterday in practice and I just had a gut feeling that the 1-3-1 was going to work for us. The kids did a great job of adapting to it.”

The game began with neither squad being able to find the basket as the Devils led 6-2 at the end of the first quarter. But the two teams seemed to find themselves in the second frame as the Devils went on an 8-3 run to take a 14-5 lead with just six minutes remaining. However, the Bears forwards in Eckman and Mills wreaked havoc on the Devils has they helped power the Bears on an 11-4 run to close the half. The Devils led 18-16 at the intermission.

“I tell you what, they are our two big kids and they have been doing that all year. I can’t say enough about both of them. They played smart basketball. They are smart kids,” praised Hritz about Eckman and Mills.

“They did a nice job of shutting down the lanes,” Devils coach Jamie Entrikin acknowledged. “You can’t go over them and their very difficult to go through. You can try to pull them away from the basket and get to them that way but ultimately you have to be able to shoot it better from the outside. We didn’t do a lot of that.”

In fact, the Devils hit on only 15 of 39 shots from the floor on the night. In addition, they only connected on 4 of 13 foul shots.

The Bears would grab their first lead of the game since the opening basket when Sydney Mesmer hit a free throw at the 6:29 mark of the third quarter to give them a 19-18 lead. The two teams would trade the lead three times before the Devils closed the period wth a 7-2 run to hold a 29-23 advantage at the end of the quarter.

The Bears kept gaining confidence as the momentum of the game slowly began to shift in their favor in the fourth quarter. Mesmer would roll in a layup with 4:57 remaining to tie the contest at 30-30. Eckman would follow with a basket and a free throw to push the Bears lead to 33-30 with 1:48 remaining in the game. After the Devils Karlee Pezzano hit a basket and free throw at the 1:34 mark, the game would be tied at 33 setting up the dramatic finish.

“We were very composed in the second half. We had fourteen turnovers in the first half and we were able to regroup and get our composure and make the adjustments,” Hritz remarked.

With the Devils set to meet league-leading Columbiana on Monday, Entrikin didn’t think his team was directly affected in its focus, “It’s natural for kids to think about that, but I thought our kids were ready to play. Leetonia did a great job defensively on us. We needed to execute some things a little better and we didn’t get the job done. I didn’t get the job done.”

Eckman led the Bears with a modest 12 points as the Bears scoring was fairly evenly distributed. She would also grab 10 rebounds. Tori Norman added 9 points and 4 rebounds, while Elizabeth Mills contributed 6 rebounds.

The loss overshadowed a tremendous performance by the Devils Karlee Pezzano who scored a game-high 21 points in the contest. She also led them in rebounds with 9. McKenzie Mason, who fouled out at the 2:49 mark scored 6 points and had 6 rebounds. Four other Devils all scored just 2 points in the game.

As mentioned the Devils will host Columbiana on Monday night as they try to refocus. The now charged up Bears will host United Monday night.

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