SALEM -A 44-year wait to grace the floor of a district final has finally come to an end for the Lisbon boys basketball team.
After being outscored in the first half by second-seeded Inter-Tri County League upper tier champion Springfield, the third-seeded Blue Devils rallied heavy in the fourth quarter of the Division III district semifinals.
The rally forced overtime, which the Blue Devils controlled and sent the Tigers packing with a 55-53 victory on Tuesday at John Cabas Gymnasium.
The Blue Devils (21-4) will return Friday to Cabas Gymnasium to battle Canton Central Catholic - who upset top-seeded Campbell Memorial 46-43 Monday night - for the Division III district championship.
"It feels great, the whole team is just excited," said sophomore Austin Rutecki, who led the Blue Devils with 17 points and 10 rebounds. "The coaches, the JV, varsity, everybody is excited."
The last time the Blue Devils battled for the district championship was 1970 against Oberlin Firelands in a Class A game. The Blue Devils fell to Firelands, 60-59, on that night.
After losing the ITCL upper tier championship to the Tigers, Lisbon coach Chris Huckshold decided to focus on the future, and particularly how far the team would go in the season.
"We refocused our goals for the season," Huckshold said. "We had goals that turned into setting the bar for most wins in a single season. Let's get as far into the tournament as we can and see where we go."
The Blue Devils' tournament run, though, almost came to a screeching halt as they got outmatched by the Tigers in the first half.
With 14 turnovers in the first half and an 11-point deficit, the Blue Devils picked up the pace, and with offense from Rutecki and fellow sophomores Josh Liberati, who contributed with 15 points and six rebounds, and Avery Andric, who scored 11, the Blue Devils outplayed the Tigers and forced overtime.
"Even when we were down by 10, we never gave up," Rutecki said. "We kept fighting, and in the end we made our foul shots and had good execution at the end, not as many turnovers."
Rutecki scored four points and made the best of the overtime session as the team got a little worried.
"We were nervous a little bit," Rutecki said. "We knew we could pull it out if we just kept playing as a team."
The Tigers (18-5) threatened early with strong offense courtesy of sophomore Graham Mincher and junior Mark Schuler, which propelled the Tigers to a 29-18 lead by halftime.
Springfield coach Eric Fender was happy with this season's contributions from Mincher, who scored a game-high 22 points, and looks forward to another two seasons with him.
"He's really stepped up, he's sort-of learning on the fly this year," Fender said. "Overall, he gave it his all. He's doing what he's supposed to do. He's a great kid with a lot of ability and lot of talent, and hopefully in the next two years, we'll have a lot of excitement from him."
Schuler scored all of his 10 points in the strong first half, but the second half told a different story as the Blue Devil defense stopped Schuler.
"They started double-teaming him, and he had to kick the ball out and be unselfish," Fender said. "He got a few offensive rebounds and putbacks that we missed, but what can you do?"
As the game ended, the team felt as though it had nothing to hang its head about, and neither did Fender.
"To look back on the season we had, going 18-5, back-to-back-to-back ITCL titles, that's bringing Springfield basketball back to where it should be," Fender said. "We'll get the tournament thing figured out, but our kids worked hard."
Meanwhile, the Blue Devils move on to its next challenge in fourth-seeded Canton Central Catholic and look to continue the pursuit of district title.
"To be one of only 32 teams left in the state is special, and that's fun," Huckshold said. "That's something that the kids can hang their hat on."
Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. Friday at Cabas Gymnasium.
Presale tickets for the Lisbon-Canton Central Catholic Division III district championship game can be purchased at the Lisbon High School main office during school hours.
LISBON SCORING: Matt Spencer 3-0-6, Josh Liberati 6-2-15, Austin Rutecki 6-2-17, Josh Craig 3-0-6, Avery Andric 4-2-11, Austin Davis 0-0-0. TOTALS: 22, 6-13: 55.
SPRINGFIELD SCORING: Jake Ohlin 2-0-5, Mark Shuler 5-0-10, Graham Mincher 7-6-22, Hunter Snyder 2-0-4, Brandon Chamberlain 2-1-7, Nate Simboli 0-2-2, Jordan Peterson 1-0-3, Ryan Kohler 0-0-0. TOTALS: 19, 9-17: 53.
Three-pointers: Lisbon 5 (Rutecki 3, Andric, Liberati), Springfield 6 (Chamberlain 2, Mincher 2, Ohlin, Peterson).