NEW MIDDLETOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – The top-seeded Springfield Tigers are making District Finals a regular occurrence in their program. On Friday night they held-off a late charge by the fifth-seeded Pymatuning Valley Lakers to capture a 63-53 victory. The win advances the Tigers to the Division III Regional semi-finals on Tuesday where they will play the Norwayne Bobcats at Twinsburg High School.
“We have made it to the District finals three years in a row now, and have won two,” Tigers coach Steve French said. “So it means a lot, especially with the tough year where thing s have been kind of goofy. To win it on your home floor, and cut down your own nets is something that might never happen again. That’s pretty special.”
The victory improves the Tigers to 18-4 on the season and marks the second District title in three years for them. The Lakers close the year with a 12-5 overall mark.
The Tigers would lead at the end of the first quarter by a slim 12-11 score before the Lakers Mason Inman hit a shot just 28-second into the second period to give the Lakers their only lead of the night at 13-12. But the Tigers responded with a 15-0 run over the next five minutes as Beau Brungard scored 9 of his 16 game points in the frame. The Tigers would hold a commanding 35-19 lead at halftime.
“At the start of the game, we weren’t really sure what the match-up were going to be. When we saw the match-ups, I knew I had an advantage because he (Verba) is a bigger guy and not as quick as I am. So I attacked and got layups, and it helped sometimes because we got open shooters, so just really used that to our advantage,” Tigers guard Beau Brungard explained.
“Our defense in the first half and rebounding was outstanding,” French added. “I think we gave up 19 points in the first half. So that really carried us through.”
But the Lakers fought back to start the second half, coming out with a 6-0 run to cut the deficit down to 10 at the 4:28 mark of the quarter. That would be the margin at the end of the third quarter as the Tigers enjoyed a 46-36 lead.
“I told them that we were not playing like us. We forgot who we were for a little bit. We let the moment get a little too big for us. It took us a while to manage our emotions, but once they did they started working together as they know-how, it showed,” Lakers coach Ryan Shontz relayed the halftime message.
The Lakers made one final push late in the fourth quarter as they cut the deficit down to just 5-points at 56-51 with 2:04 remaining in the game following two free throws by Tanner Rhoades. The Tigers kept their cool though as they converted on 7 of 9 free throws in the final two minutes to seal the victory.
“We knew the traps were going to come, and they were going to pressure us,” Brungard said. “We called timeout and we needed to calm down, make the right pass, and go after the ball, and that’s what we did. The entire season we have worked on free throws. And knew in that situation they were going to foul us and we had to hit our free throws. We executed really well at the end of the game.”
Brungard and RJ Smith would share the scoring honors bay each knocking down 16 points in the game for the Tigers. Clay Medvec would add another 15 including three treys.
The Lakers were led by Jonah Wilkerson with 15 points and 7 rebounds while Tanner Rhoades added 12. Mason Inman would chip in with 11 points.
“I have never been happier to be a teacher and a coach at Pymatuning Valley,” Shontz remarked. “These boys are a special group and they make coming to work such a joy. They are building a tradition at our school as we are moving up. We’re taking steps every year and I hope my young guys see that and follow the example of the seniors.”