NEW MIDDLETOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – In a match-up of the top two teams in the ITCL’s Red Tier, it was the Springfield Tigers who seized the momentum early and went on to thump the South Range Raiders 59-42 to take sole possession of the league. The Tigers now stand at 10-3 on the season, 4-0 in the league. The Raiders fall to 10-3 and 3-1 in league play.
“Take care of business at home,” senior guard Graham Mincher said was the focus of the Tigers coming into the contest. “We never want to lose, especially on our home floor. South Range is always one of the biggest league games every season. We knew coming into this game we were going to have to play really good defense in order to win. Holding them to 42 points that always a good job holding a team to 42 points.”
“We’re on a good streak, everyone is working hard. We like where we’re going,” junior guard Jake Ford added. “We just played hard, never gave up and just wanted more than they did.”
Mincher and Ford would lead the Tigers in the scorebook with 26 and 17 points respectably.
“We looked like we barely practiced for that game, and we prepared for that game as well as we could have prepared,” Raiders coach John Cullen remarked. “Probably had the clearest picture going into a game what we wanted to accomplish and then you always have to adjust to what they’re doing. They did a nice job of things. But the things that were there, that they were giving us we didn’t take advantage of them. So we tried to just do it the way wanted to do it ourselves and we weren’t really accountable to each other.”
“South Range is a very good team. I have so much respect for coach Cullen and what he has done throughout his career,” Tigers coach Eric Fender said. “We played well, and we forced them to do some things that I think they were not comfortable doing. Making them take tough, contested shots and we really got on the defensively glass. We rebounded the ball well and limited them to just one shot.”
The Tigers began the game with a 5-0 run and led 16-12 at the end of the first quarter. However, the second quarter bogged down into a defensively struggle as the Tigers held a 23-19 advantage at halftime courtesy of a three-point shot by Mincher with just 6-seconds remaining in the frame.
The Tigers started to pull away from the Raiders in the second half after the Raiders made it a 1-point game at 27-26 at the 3:17 mark, the Tigers went on a 8-0 run with Mincher once gain hitting a key bucket. The Raiders added a basket just before the end of the quarter to make it 35-29 in favor of the Tigers.
“I though after the third quarter we gave ourselves a little bit more of a cushion to our lead,” Mincher said. “Once the third quarter progressed into the fourth quarter we started to seem to get more comfortable and everyone was making plays.”
At the start of the final frame both Ford and Mincher came up with steals and then converted into baskets to stretch the Tigers lead out to 12-points at 41-29 with 6:42 remaining in the game. The Tigers would push their advantage out to 15-points at the 3:36 mark when Grant Nezbeth put rebound back for a basket and a foul shot to make it 46-31.
Nezbeth would score 9-points, but more importantly he grabbed 11 rebounds to lead the Tigers as they outscored the Raiders 24-13 in the final frame.
“I have got to give credit to number 33 (Nezbeth). He played the best game that I have seen him play. He did a wonderful job,” Cullen said.
“I wish he would have made one or two more (rebounds),” Fender laughed. “Overall Grant rebounded the ball and being a big guy its tough. he doesn’t get as many looks as our guards do but you know what, he never complains and comes into practice and works hard. He’s just happy that we walked out of here with a win.”
Dan Ritter would lead the Raiders in scoring with 18 points while Brandon Youngs added 13. Ritter would also grab 6 rebounds to lead the Raiders on the boards.
Both teams have tough ITCL cross-over games next week. The Raiders will return to action Tuesday night when they travel to McDonald. The Tigers also play Tuesday night as they travel to Mineral Ridge.