Champion drills Tigers in D3 semi

WARREN — It’s on to the Division III Warren District final for the Champion Golden Flashes boys basketball team.

Newton Falls and Champion met for the third time this season Tuesday evening in a district semifinal at Warren G. Harding High School. After splitting the first two affairs, with each team winning close games at home, second-seeded Champion dominated the third-seeded Tigers, 51-32.

Junior Joe Abramovich capped off a sloppy, sluggish first quarter for both teams, with a lay-up at the buzzer, to give Champion a 5-4 lead.

Abramovich then exploded for first nine points of the second quarter. Abramovich finished his own personal 11-0 run with a 3-pointer from just beyond the arc. The crowd starting chanting, ” Joey Buckets, Joey Buckets.”

“It was kind of slow getting started there,” Abramovich said. ” I think for like four minutes or so, the score was 2 to 3. We got in transition and I got a quick bucket to end the first. I kind of took over there to start the second. I tried to get the guys going.”

The Flashes outscored Newton Falls 18-8 in the 2nd to take a 23-12 halftime lead.

“I think nerves played a large factor in the beginning, for both teams,” Champion coach Nathan Kish said. ” We both had a hard time holding on to the basketball.

“Newton Falls is a really good defensive team. They’re big, and they’re long. Their zone is tough to score on. I thought we played great defensively, as well, and I thought that was the difference for us tonight.”

With 4:30 left in the third, senior Chris Rankin’s bucket got Newton Falls within nine at 29-20. Rankin had a solid final game for the Tigers, scoring a team high 14 points.

“In the second half, Chris was just tremendous. We were getting the ball down low to him. We’ll have good memories of how he finished the year off for us,” Newton Falls coach Roy Sembach said.

That was as close as Newton Falls would get. Champion began to pull away. Junior Chase Wheelock’s basket, to end the third, made it 36-22, Champion.

One of the best all-around players in the area, Champion senior Drake Batcho, took over down the stretch. Batcho scored 11 of his game high 15 points in the second half to help secure the victory.

“We played amazing defense, probably the best all year. That’s obviously what got us the win,” Batcho said.

Newton Falls couldn’t cut into the lead in the fourth. Kish emptied his bench as the game neared the end.

“I thought we were very well-prepared and ready. When it came out we just did not play a very good basketball game. Hats off to coach Kish and Champion. They were ready and they executed better than we did. We dug ourselves a hole that we couldn’t get out of,” Sembach said.

Champion reaches a district final for the first time since 2003. Now looming for the Flashes is the daunting task of taking on the No. 1 seed LaBrae Vikings, in the final, Friday at 7 p.m. at Harding.

” Coach said it’s been 15 years since Champion has been to a district final. It’s exciting,” Abramovich said.

” It’s going to be a very difficult game. We’re going to give it everything we have. I don’t think a lot of people expect us to win. We’re going to be the underdog. Sometimes that’s a good place to be in,” Kish said.

” It’s going to be a tough one. We have nothing to lose, so we’re going to play like that,” Batcho said.