BELOIT - Facing undefeated East Liverpool, West Branch entered Tuesday's game with one more win than the Warriors had all of last season. After the game, West Branch had bettered last season's wins by two and scored perhaps its biggest victory in years with a 51-44 stunner over the fourth-ranked Potters.
"We talked about this game all week," West Branch coach John Hancock said. "It's not everyday you get to play a team that's ranked fourth in the state. This was a game our kids were excited to play and a game they will never forget."
The Warriors were losing by 10 at the half and by as much as 15 in the third, but stormed back to take the lead with two minutes remaining in the game. The Potters could do little to change situation and committed four-straight turnovers after the lead had shifted.
"West Branch did a good job of defending us," East Liverpool coach Nate Conley said. "They're much bigger than us and it showed in that second half. They just outworked us."
In the first half, it was the Potters' defense doing the disrupting. West Branch turned the ball over 12 times in the first two quarters. The Warrior turnovers allowed East Liverpool to lead 12-8 after one and 30-20 lead the break.
"In the second half, we got a little tougher," Hancock said. "We got a little more physical. I think we were frustrated in the first half. They kept knocking the ball right out of our hands and we were frustrated. In the second half, we took better care of the ball, moved it around and got it inside."
Getting the ball inside paid off with 13 third-quarter points. Meanwhile, the Potters came up with just nine as the Warriors shaved their deficit to 39-36 after three complete.
While it was inside buckets that put West Branch back in the game, outside shots - specifically two 3-pointers by Austen Rekolt - gave the Warriors the lead. ReKolt hit his first long shot with 5:22 on the clock. That cut the Potters' lead to one possession. After two-straight East Liverpool turnovers and a missed one-of-one opportunity by Salem, Scott Muckleroy went inside for two points, tying the game at 42. Three turnovers - two by the Potters and one from West Branch - followed before Rekolt hit his second 3-pointer to push the Warriors ahead 45-42.
Just over two minutes remained in the game and it was deja vu for West Branch.
"We played at Marlington last week and had a six-point game with two minutes left in the game but turned the ball over and ended up losing," Hancock said. "Tonight, we took the lead at the two-minute mark, but we took the care of the basketball. We played smart defensively and we got some key rebounds in the last two minutes."
Jacob Griffith came up with three of those boards. He grabbed one at 1:54 and another at 0:58 on which he was fouled. He was sent to the line for two shots and made good on both to extend the Warriors' lead 47-44. After a field goal by Kyle Christian kept the Potters fighting, Griffith pulled down another rebound with just 19 seconds remaining.
Griffith dumped the ball to Drake Lohnes, who was immediately fouled. Like Griffith, Lohnes made both free throws to give the Warriors a bit of breathing room.
The Potters' final possession would yield two 3-point attempts - both bounced off the rim and the last one bounced into the hands of Muckleroy with 2.9 ticks left on the clock.
Muckleroy finished with a team-high 11 points. Rekolt added nine to the Warriors' efforts. Griffith scored eight, while Kip DeShields, Jalen Shelton and Matt Latham chipped in six points apiece. Lohnes finished with five to account for all of West Branch's points.
"I was really happy with the way we spread the scoring around," Hancock said. "We don't have one guy on the team who is averaging double digits this season, if you can believe that. This team has been unselfish with the basketball and has great chemistry. Tonight was another team effort."
The Potters were paced by Kyle Christian who scored a game-high 13 points. Marky Thompkins added 10 points. Mow Mow Thompson, who scored eight points, left the game with an injured ankle late in the first half. He attempted to re-enter at the start of the third, but lasted just one play and left for the hospital after the game.
For the Potters, life goes on. They'll put this loss behind them and focus on Saturday's game in the Coaches Against Cancer Tournament at Geneva College
"We move on," Conley said. "It's one loss. Every team is going to lose a game. It's going to happen. West Branch beat us. Now it's time to get back on the horse and get back to work."
EAST LIVERPOOL: 12 18 9 5 - 44
WEST BRANCH: 8 12 13 18 - 51
EAST LIVERPOOL SCORING: Kyle Christian 6-0-13, Regis Auer 1-0-2, Mow Mow Thompson 4-0-8, Brian Beverly 2-0-5, Marky Thompkins 3-4-10, Seth Tallbott 2-1-15, Austin Emmerling 0-1-1. TEAM TOTALS: 18, 6-9, 44.
WEST BRANCH SCORING: Kip DeShields 3-0-6, Scott Muckleroy 5-1-11, Austen Rekolt 3-1-9, Drake Lohnes 1-2-5, Jalen Shelton 3-0-6, Jacob Griffith 2-4-8, Matt Latham 3-0-6. TEAM TOTALS: 20, 8-17, 51.
THREE POINTERS: EL 2 (Christian, Beverly), WB 3 (Rekolt 2, Lohnes).