SALINEVILLE - Southern Local knew Leetonia was going to throw an intense and up tempo defensive game at it coming into Friday's Inter-Tri County League Tier 2 showdown.
That was fine and dandy with the Indians as they adapted early and shook off some rough patches to come away with a 65-49 victory.
Southern senior Luke Griffith led the way with 27 points and a career-high 14 rebounds as the Indians improved to 3-2 and 1-2 in the ITCL lower tier.
"I was surprised I had that many rebounds," Griffith said. "A lot of balls came right to me. It was just one of those nights where you were in the right spot. It felt good getting on the boards, but we had a nice floor game too."
Griffith was on the end of one of those nice floor plays in the first quarter as Dylan Ketchum saved a ball from going out of bounds and flipped a pass behind his back to Griffith who put it away on a very smooth fastbreak.
"That was all Dylan," Griffith said. "I was just in the right spot. He made a great hustle play and flipped it right to me. I had to finish it for him if he's going to make a tough play like that."
SOUTHERN SCORING: M.J. Williams 0-0-0, J.J. Napierkowski 3-0-6, Dylan Ketchum 3-0-7, Jared Shilot 3-1-7, Luke Griffith 11-3-27, Aron Sevek 0-0-0, Kyler Woodward 9-0-18. TEAM TOTALS: 29-57, 4-12: 65.
LEETONIA SCORING: Luke Janci 2-3-9, Cody Valentine 1-0-2, Brandon Dattilio 1-0-3, Trent Ferry 3-5-12, Ian Sevenich 3-0-8, Zack Van Giesen 4-0-9, Ian Stecker 2-2-6, Josh Faulkner 0-0-0. TEAM TOTALS: 16-53, 10-16: 49.
Three-point goals: Southern 3 (Griffith 2, Ketchum), Leetonia 7 (Sevenich 2, Janci 2, Dattilio, Ferry, Van Giesen).
Griffith said that was play of the year caliber and provided a lot of energy going into the end of the first quarter.
"It's one of those things where if you do that, someone has to be there to get the ball," Southern coach Whittaker said. "Sometimes the ball just goes out of bounds. It's like in tennis where someone will hit that shot between their legs. It's a hustle play and that's what you have to do to make those plays. You have to want the ball."
Southern led 26-12 after the first quarter in which the Bears (2-3, 1-2) lost senior starter Cody Valentine to a hip injury.
"I don't know how bad it is, but it didn't look too good," first-year Leetonia coach Eric Whitmer said.
Leetonia slipped out of full court pressure into a triangle and two zone in the second quarter, but the Indians had all sorts of trouble exploiting the weaknesses in that defense.
"The triangle and two gave us some problems," Whittaker said. "You don't see that often. We attacked it well, but we were shooting the ball too soon or throwing it away."
Leetonia limited Southern to five points in the second quarter and was down 31-28 at the half.
That rally didn't last long however. Southern was able to extend the lead to as many as 14 points in the third quarter before it settled into a comfortable groove heading into the fourth.
Outside of Griffith, Kyler Woodward played a key role on the boards with 18 points and 14 rebounds. J.J Napierkowski had seven assists, while Jared Shilot had nine rebounds.
As for the Bears, the early part of the season has been an adjustment period as Whitmer is back in a head coaching role for the first time since resigning at Columbiana in 2010.
"The kids are working their butts off," Whitmer said. "We're trying to change the atmosphere around here. I couldn't be more pleased with the work ethic. It's just that they're trying to learn what I'm teaching and I'm trying to learn what they can do. It's two steps up and one step back. It's a work in progress, but I love it. They're good kids."
Sophomore guard Trent Ferry led the Bears with 12 points. Ian Sevenich added eight points and seven assists. Junior Zack Van Giesen had a strong game off the bench with nine points, seven rebounds and three steals.
Both Southern and Leetonia are expected to be in the mix in what is supposed to be a balanced league, but for the time being McDonald and Wellsville appear to be the cream of the crop.
"Some of the scores have been surprising," Whittaker said. "Lowellville has done well and Sebring almost beat Wellsville the other day. It's a tough league again."
- Leetonia held a moment of silence for the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre before the game.
- Southern won the jayvee game 59-27. Clayton Cunningham and Caleb Gotschall had 12 points each for the Indians. Austin Rhodes had six for the Bears.
- Southern hosts Western Reserve on Tuesday. Leetonia is at Wellsville on Tuesday.