COLUMBIANA – Tournament basketball can be extremely exciting. Throw in the home team winning on a last-second shot with a packed crowd, and it can be quite riveting.
With just 17-seconds remaining and third-seeded Heartland Christian trailing 56-54, senior Stephen Barnes received a pass from Nick Garzanich at the top of the key and drove to the basket. He laid the ball in the hoop to tie the game and was also fouled in the process. He calmly drained the free throw and won the game for the Lions 57-56 over No. 14 Brookfield
“I was definitely thinking I have to make this, no matter what,” Barnes remarked about hitting the free throw. “I was kind of thinking it would be the game-winner.”
“For Nate Garzanich to make a senior read and hit him with a pass right on the money, late in the game, and everything on the line. And Barnes finished with his left hand and the foul. They are going to remember this for the rest of their lives,” Lions coach Josh Scott said.
The Lions’ defense would ultimately seal the contest as the Warriors had one last chance to win the game. As the Warriors tried to feed the ball to one of their key players in Isaiah Jones or David Pawlowski, the ball was deflected and finally retrieved by TeAndre Craig in the corner. But by the time he turned to get off a last-second shot, the final buzzer sounded as the Lion’s bench and cheerleaders stormed the court.
“We had it set up where we knew where we were going to go, and if not, we were going to find David (Pawlowski) on the backside. They doubled up Isaiah. Credit to them, they made a few more buckets at the end and executed a little better,” Warriors coach Shawn Hammond said.
The victory for the Lions was made even more emotional by the fact that they battled back from a 16-point third-quarter deficit. It also marked the first time in school history that the Lions program had captured a sectional championship.
“This is unbelievable,” Lions senior Jonathan Bertovich exclaimed. “We worked so hard for this moment from our coaching to players, all the way down. I’m speechless right now.”
“This has never happened in school history to win a sectional. It is just incredible to be able to do this,” Barnes added.
The loss was especially heartbreaking for the Warriors, who close the season with an 11-12 mark, as they led for about 23 minutes of the contest, only to lose at the end. It also overshadowed a tremendous performance by Jones who scored a game-high 20 points, including 15 in the first half to help the Warriors build their lead.
“I can’t say enough about seniors David Pawlowski, TJ Laverty, and TeAndre Craig. They played their butts off,” Hammond remarked. “We felt good about today, and I’m proud of my guys.”
The Warriors led 15-6 at the end of the first frame and 33-22 at halftime. Following a steal and layup by the Warriors David Pawlowski at the 4:57 mark of the third quarter, they held a commanding 41-25 lead over the Lions.
But the Lions kept chipping away at the deficit as they closed the third quarter trailing by 8-points, 48-40. Bertovich hit two consecutive threes in the final 30 seconds of the frame to propel the Lions’ surge.
But perhaps the real turning point in the game came with 6:16 in the fourth quarter when Jones wheeled around and caught Garzanich with an elbow to the temple. Jones was charged with a technical and the Lions converted the free throws to cut the deficit down to only 4 at 48-44.
The Lions would take their first lead of the contest with just 1:11 remaining when ironically Garzanich nailed a trey from the left corner to put the Lions up 54-53. The Warriors would retake the advantage 55-54 following a free throw from Jones and a bucket from Laverty. That would then set up the game-winning bucket by Barnes.
The victory advances the 19-5 Lions to the Division IV District Semi-Finals Monday night at the Struthers Field House. The Lions will face the second-seeded Lowellville Rockets at 7:00 PM.
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