ST. CLAIRSVILLE - The Potters completed step one.
The East Liverpool boys' basketball led Indian Creek by as many as 13 points early in the fourth quarter, but the Potters were able to convert from the charity stripe down the stretch to hold off a late charge by the Redskins to pull out a 62-58 victory in an Ohio Division II Eastern District Sectional Co-Final at Ohio University Eastern.
With the win, the Potters improved to 19-3 on the season. The victory gave the Potters their first sectional title since 2005 when Nick Aloi was still roaming the sideline. East Liverpool's 19 wins are the most since the team ended the 2005 season at 20-3.
East Liverpool’s Christian Kyle lays the ball up Saturday against Indian Creek at Ohio University-Eastern. (Photo courtesy of Jimmy Joe Savage)
"It is a great win," East Liverpool coach Nate Conley said. "It is great for this community. It's great for these kids.
"They had a rough, rough beginning to their careers at the high school, and I am extremely proud of them because they worked so hard before the season. They have worked even harder during the season. It is starting to pay off.
"Winning the sectional was obviously one of our goals, but we don't want to stop here. Our season isn't complete. We still want to go far in the playoffs, and with the six guys, the resiliency they have got - Indian Creek is tough to play against. We had to change up our whole offense, our whole defense and to adapt in one week and to win the basketball game is something. It is something amazing."
East Liverpool 62, Indian Creek 58
IC (58): Matt Furda 0 1-2 1, Blake Roar 0 0-2 0, Dustin Rath 0 0-0 0, Dylan Hibbits 7 3-5 17, Joe Bowers 5 10-12 21, Frank Kamarec 4 1-1 10, Shane Winland 4 1-2 9. TOTALS: 20 16-24 58.
EL (62): Christian Kyle 5 1-2 11, Hayden Cunningham 0 2-2 2, Mow Mow Thompson 6 0-0 12, Brian Beverly 2 7-8 13, Marky Thompkins 7 9-11 24, Seth Talbott 0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 20 19-23 62.
IC 08-09-14-27 - 58
EL 13-09-16-24 - 62
Three-point field goals: Indian Creek - 2 (Bowers, Kamarec); East Liverpool - 3 (Beverly 2, Thompkins)
Four players scored in double digits to lead the way for the Potters. Marky Thompkins tallied a game-high 24 points to go along with six rebounds to lead the way. Also, Brian Beverly recorded 13 points, Mow Mow Thompson netted 12 points to go along with four rebounds and four blocks and Christian Kyle contributed 11 points, three rebounds, three assists and four steals.
"It means a lot. We have never won one before," Kyle said. "It means more than a regular game, but our goals aren't finished yet. We want to keep going."
Finally, Hayden Cunningham ended up with two points.
Three players scored in double figures for the Redskins. Joe Bowers scored a team-high 21 points, Dylan Hibbits tallied 13 points and Frank Kamarec collected 10 points.
"I want to thank the community of Indian Creek for the way they have supported these kids all year, and the community of the whole Ohio Valley," Indian Creek head coach Joe Dunlevy said. "Every school on our schedule plus some that we don't play, they did things for us, they helped us and I just want to thank the people because this is something we have never been through before and never want to go through again. I just wanted to thank everybody from the bottom of my heart for what they have done for these kids and for the whole community.
"I would also like to say that we just lost a game today, and my admiration goes to Cookie West and Lisa Cummings for the courage and the determination and the love they have shown in this whole thing that has been going on."
The Potters were able to scout the Redskins during Indian Creek's sectional semifinal game last Saturday against Minerva. East Liverpool defeated Buckeye Local in the first semifinal game that night.
"You know how Coach Dunlevy is," Conley said. "He does an amazing job with those kids. You look at them during warm ups and you think you are going to blow them out, but we made some major adjustments too.
"We had four guys in double figures which you don't see very often. When we get that, we know we are distributing the ball, and we know we are working together.
"Our defense got a little sloppy at the end of the second quarter, and that was what our halftime talk was about - our intensity. Some of the captains stepped up. I want them to lead on the court, and that is exactly what they did tonight.
"What I think Christian wants to say is these kids have been through a lot, and they have stuck together. You don't see that to often. With all of the trials and tribulations, you'd think they would just fall apart, but to stick with it for two years, three years, and then finally it pays off.
"I am extremely proud of them. I'm sure they are just as happy for their other teammates, for the parents and for everybody who did something tonight.
"The community was great. We had a great following. They love the Potters. I love the Potter fans, but next Thursday we are coming to win a district title too."
East Liverpool scored the first six points of the fourth quarter to take a 44-31 lead forcing an Indian Creek timeout with 5:39 left to play in the game.
"It means a lot to us," Thompson said about winning the sectional championship. "We haven't won one in seven years, so it means a lot. We just work hard, and this is what we want. We have been working hard for it. I don't want our season to end early."
The Redskins began to chip away at the Potters' lead. A 6-0 run pulled Indian Creek to within 48-43. Two foul shots by Hibbits cut the East Liverpool lead to 52-48. A 3-point by Kamarec made the score 57-55, but the Potters converted from the free-throw line to secure the win.
The Potters converted 14-of-16 from the foul line in the fourth quarter with one of misses being intentional. They ended the game 19-of-23.
Throughout the season, Conley said one of the team's strength is its ability to convert from the charity stripe. The Potters were able to do it when mattered the most against the Redskins.
"Yeah, 19-of-23, you aren't going to complain too much about that," Conley said. "That is what seniors do. They step up. They knocked down some big foul shots.
"Hayden Cunningham made two crucial foul shots. Coming off of the bench cold and to step in like that as a sophomore, I'm proud of him, but 19-of-23, you aren't going to lose to many game shooting that from the foul line."
Thompkins netted seven points in the first quarter as the Potters were able to build a 13-8 lead after eight minutes of action.
"It means a lot," Thompkins said about winning the sectional title.
The Potters continued to play well in the second quarter. East Liverpool began the stanza on a 9-2 run as a basket by Thompkins made the score 22-10. The Potters were in control, but the Redskins scored the finals even points of the frame to close to within 22-17 at halftime.
The run increased to 9-0 as the third quarter started, but a 3-point by Beverly gave East Liverpool a little breathing room. A 7-0 run capped by another basket by Thompkins gave the Potters a 36-27 lead.
East Liverpool led 38-31 entering the fourth quarter.
East Liverpool will now play St. Clairsville in the Eastern District Final at 7 p.m. Thursday night back down at OUE. St. Clairsville defeated Carrollton, 67-54, in Saturday's second sectional co-final.
"St. Clairsville, they are very good," Conley said.
NOTE: East Liverpool will be selling tickets for the district final at the high school during normal school hours - 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. - Tuesday through Thursday. Advance tickets cost $5. Tickets at the gate will cost $7.