NEWTON FALLS - The Newton Falls Tigers have not played a single game since they defeated Youngstown Christian on Feb. 18, but the break did not stop them from getting the 47-45 win over Brookfield on Friday night.
Overcoming the Warriors awarded the Tigers their seventh consecutive sectional championship title. They also have won eight of their last nine games.
"You never know how that goes," Newton Falls coach Roy Sembach said. "Obviously, you like having a steady pattern of playing but you never know how you are going to react to that. I don't know, with how they jumped out, if I want to blame that on a 10-day layoff because I thought Brookfield came to play."
Brookfield (13-10) jumped out early in the first quarter, producing a 10-point lead over the Tigers. However in the second, Newton Falls (14-9) climbed back to cut Brookfield's lead to four at 26-22 going into the locker rooms.
Newton Falls' senior guard Ozzie Hawkins explained that the strategies set forth from the coaching staff helped lift them up to regain the lead.
"We just stuck to our game plan," Hawkins said. "It's been 10 days since we last played a game, which is pretty long for high school kids. I knew personally that first quarter would be rough but I didn't think the whole first quarter would be rough. I'm glad we stuck with it and dominated the second, third and fourth quarters as a team, offensively and defensively."
Sembach was impressed with how the team reacted after the first quarter.
"I thought we did a really nice job regrouping and just staying within ourselves," Sembach said. "We didn't panic when they jumped out into the big lead. We had a fairly easy win over them about a week and a half ago. That really scared me because I know they are a very good basketball team and I knew they would play better tonight than they did (last time). I was really happy with the poise that they showed when we got down by 10. It was gradual. I'm just really proud of how we played one possession at a time, both offensively and defensively."
Though Newton Falls regrouped after the first, it wasn't until the 4:33 mark of the third quarter that the Tigers were able to take the lead. Hawkins hit 11 of his 19 points in the third, all from the floor. Hawkins' contributions put the Tigers ahead by seven, 38-31, and gave them the momentum going into the final quarter.
The Warriors actually won the fourth quarter, 14-9, but the Tigers' third quarter was what set them apart.
Brookfield coach Bill Kovach, while proud of the overall effort that his team gave, knew there were a few key possessions that changed the course of the game.
"We had four series where we turned the ball over," Kovach said. "We talked about ball possessions. We came here two weeks ago and we really took bad shots and didn't run our offense against their zone. We did very well in the first half. In the second half, we had a lapse in our judgment. The kids really played hard. When they got down, they didn't quit. Ozzie Hawkins is a tremendous player. Our whole defense was geared to stop him. In the second half, he did a great job of getting to the hole."
Brookfield junior Seth Wallace led the Warriors with 12 points. Marc Kraml, Derrick Dickson and Brian Kiner each had eight points.
Newton Falls takes on Ursuline Tuesday in the district semifinal game at 7 p.m. at Howland High School.