LISBON-Their lead, which had once been 17 points, was whittled down to two. Their senior leader and top rebounder was on the bench hobbled with an ankle injury. Their point guard was playing with four fouls.
With four minutes left in Friday's game versus West Branch, the Lisbon Blue Devils were backed into a corner and responded. Point guard Josh Liberati nailed a key three-pointer, forward Josh Craig pulled down a couple of critical rebounds and the Devils made enough free throws to hold off the Warriors down the stretch 62-56 at Lisbon High School. The Blue Devils bounce back from last week's upset loss to South Range and are now 7-1 overall. West Branch falls to 2-6.
"Late in the game, we had to come together as one and calm everything down," Criag said. "It was a tough situation but we were able to slow things down on offense and get to the free throw line."
Senior forward Matt Spencer led the Blue Devils with 15 points and 10 rebounds but was forced to the bench halfway through the fourth quarter after rolling his ankle. Without Spencer, Lisbon was left with five sophomores out on the floor to face down a hard-charging West Branch team. The Warriors were in the midst of an 18-6 run that had trimmed a 39-25 third quarter lead to 45-43 with 4:25 to play.
"The kids responded," Lisbon coach Chris Huckshold said. "I don't think we had a deer-in-the-headlights look. Anytime those kids are on the floor they are learning something. Anytime you put young players in that type of situation it's going to be valuable because they are learning the game, learning the proper decision to make and where to be at what time."
On Lisbon's next possession, Liberati buried a three-pointer with a hand in his face to extend the lead to five. The Warriors would not get within one possession the rest of the night as the Lisbon defense bore down and forced several turnovers down the stretch. Forward Kip DeShields hit three three-pointers in the final two minutes to keep West Branch within seven, the Blue Devils were able to close the game down from the free-throw line. Liberati finished with 14 points, nine rebounds and six steals, while Craig came through with eight points and a team-high 11 rebounds, including a couple of critical defensive boards down the stretch.
"With Matt being out it was time for all of us to step up and be a leader," Craig said. "Everyone needed to listen in, think about the situation and be smart about basketball. I thought we responded to the pressure really well."
Early on it looked as if there would be no pressure. Using a quick transition game and some spot-on three-point shooting, Lisbon raced out to a 19-2 lead with less than two minutes left in the first quarter. Austin Rutecki drained three early threes as part of his 15 points, while Liberati frequently found open shooters before the Warrior defense could set up.
"They did everything they wanted to do in the first quarter," West Branch coach Lou Sellaroli said. "We didn't contest their shooters, we didn't get back fast enough on defense and on offense we didn't move the ball or take care of it. It's a tough thing to overcome being in that type of hole, but out guys fought valiantly."
A quick West Branch spurt cut the lead to 11 by the end of the first quarter. The lead would hover around that mark until late in the third when the Warriors made their big move. Point Guard Jerian Thomas and forward Jeremy Gorby spearheaded the comeback effort for the Warriors. Thomas finished with 13 points, while Gorby had 12 points and eight rebounds. DeShields finished with 13 points and nine rebounds.
"When you get out to a big lead it is tough to maintain that type of intensity for a full game," Huckshold said. "Coach Sellaroli has been around a while and we knew they weren't going to roll over and lie down."
West Branch won the jayvee game 51-46. Zach Shaffer and Colin Sweeney each had 10 points for the Blue Devils. Brett Butcher had 13 for the Warriors.
Spencer will be re-evaluated next week. The Blue Devils have eight days off before traveling to Heritage Christian next Saturday.
"We are just going to have to wait and see," Huckshold said. "It's a good thing we have a full week to rest."
Lisbon and Springfield-considered to be the top two contenders in the ITCL upper tier-both beat West Branch this week.
"It's going to be an interesting matchup," Sellaroli said. "Lisbon has a little bit more size and a little more perimeter shooting. I think Springfield has a little more speed and can get to the basket more."
WEST BRANCH: 11-7-17-21-56
WEST BRANCH: Dustin Greenawalt 0-1-1, Kyle Zeigler 1-0-2, Jerion Thomas 6-1-13, Kip Deshields 4-2-13, Jeremy Gorby 4-4-12, Matt Meiter 2-0-4, Jake Evanoff 3-4-11, Matt Heffinger 0-0-0. TEAM TOTALS: 20, 12-21: 56.
LISBON: Matt Spencer 7-0-15, Josh Liberati 3-7-14, Austin Rutecki 4-4-15, Josh Craig 2-4-8, Avery Andric 3-1-9, Austin Davis 0-1-1. TEAM TOTALS: 19, 17-24: 62.
Three-point goals: Lisbon 7 (Rutecki 3, Andric 2, Liberati, Spencer), West Branch 4 (DeShields 3, Evanoff).