COLUMBIANA, Ohio (WKBN) – The Mathews Mustangs took their tournament seeding personally.
The 12th-seeded Mustangs used their low seed as motivation to knock off the third-seeded Heartland Christian Lions Friday night 67-63 to advance to the Division IV District semi-finals on Tuesday.
“I’m super proud of our kids,” Mustangs coach Mike Weymer exclaimed. “I can’t point to one thing or one play. They felt a little bit disrespected in the tournament draw being a twelve-seed. I think they kind of have that chip on their shoulder. I think that is a big part of what is fueling us.”
“We have been pretty talented since I was a freshman, myself and Dom (Greenwood) have started since we were freshman, so to move on in the playoffs is just great,” junior guard Vinny Sharp added.
“It was a roller-coaster, both teams out there battling and working their tails off. And at the end of the day, we made more mistakes than they did. That was the difference in the game,” Lions coach Josh Scott remarked.
The victory improves the Mustangs to 14-6 on the season as they advance to face another Columbiana County opponent Tuesday night. The Mustangs will travel to Wellsville on Tuesday to face the fifth-seeded Tigers.
“We were in a similar game on Tuesday against Southern where we were down by nine going into the fourth quarter, and we came to win at the end. That was the kind of game that would be a springboard for us. This group is a never say die (attitude),” Weymer said.
Junior guard Vinny Sharp led the Mustangs on the night scoring 15 points while also scoring 1,000 points in his career. Kyle Powell added 14 while Dominic Greenwood and Tyler Hopkinson added 11.
The Lions, close their season with a 17-5 record. That is the best in school history.
“There have been a ton of moral victories and a ton of first that we have accomplished,” Scott said. Obviously, if we had won, it would have been a first as well. I believe we have beaten eight schools for the first time in school history just this year. It was a great chance to showcase this team that we have. They have worked and earned everything that they have received.”
The two teams battled back and forth all night as the Mustangs held a 9-7 lead at the end of the first quarter. The Lions would take their first lead of the game at the 5:17 mark of the second quarter when Jonathan Bertovich converted a basket and one to put the Lions up 14-13. But the Mustangs would regain the lead and hold a 24-22 advantage at the intermission.
The Mustangs pushed their lead to a game-high 12-points at 41-29 with just under four minutes remaining in the third quarter. However, the Lions fought back with an 8-0 run to make it 41-37 before the Mustangs held a 45-39 lead at the end of the third period.
The Lions would grab the lead at the 6:04 mark of the fourth quarter when Joey Donofrio drove in for a basket to make it 46-45. They would build their advantage to 7-points at 54-47 with 4:38 remaining courtesy of two free throws by Bertovich. But the Mustangs responded with a 12-2 run to make it 59-56 with only 1:10 left in regulation. Bertovich would then nail a three just 20-seconds later to tie the game at 59 and force overtime.
“You go through a lot, but you have to fight back. Whatever they do to you, you have to do it right back at them,” Sharp described the emotions of the game.
“They are a good team,” senior Kyle Powell remarked. “Everyone was looking out for number eleven (Bertovich), he doesn’t miss. They are very well-coached. I’m just happy we could get the win.”
Powell would connect on a bucket with just over a minute and a half left in the overtime to give the Mustangs a 63-61 lead. Then Sharp would convert on 4 of 6 free throws in the final 50-seconds to seal the victory for the Mustangs.
”It was big for me to hit those free throws, because in the last game (against Heartland) I had a bad turnover probably the reason why we loss. It felt really good to win this one,” Sharp said.
“Coach has been talking about it ever since they beat us the first time. We have to get revenge on those guys, and we have a good shot at the District’s as long as we keep playing together (as a team), and keep playing good defense,” Powell added.
Joey Donofrio would lead the Lions in scoring in the game with 26 points, while Bertovich added 16. Nate Garzanich chipped in with 9 points.
“This is a good chance for us to remember this pain. We have never been here before, to not be the underdogs going into the tournament is new territory for all of us here at Heartland. But that’s a good problem. We have long-term goals here. We want to build a program here and be synonymous with success, and a successful team. And we are taking those steps,” Scott remarked about the Lions program.