Champion turns up intensity in victory

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo Champion’s Joe Abramovich, right, looks for an open teammate while being guarded by David Sewell (21) and Travis Myers of Liberty.

CHAMPION — Champion coach Nathan Kish stood on the sidelines, frustrated at times, yelling and, yes, disgusted.

Understandable. You would be too.

The second-seeded Golden Flashes were flustered by a late-surging Liberty team as the 10th-seeded Leopards just wouldn’t go away in Saturday’s Division III sectional bracket final.

Champion’s 72-58 victory ensured the top four seeds advanced in the Warren Harding District. The Golden Flashes face third-seeded Newton Falls Tuesday at Warren G. Harding High School, starting at 7 p.m.

Adjustments. Champion had to make them at halftime.

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo Dra Rushton, left, of Liberty looks for an opening against Champion defenders Jared Day (11) and Joe Abramovich Saturday night.

Liberty’s press forced a handful of Golden Flashes turnovers and the Leopards only trailed by four at the end of the first quarter and halftime.

Champion came out in the third quarter on a 14-6 run to lead 42-30 midway through the stanza on Drake Batcho’s two free throws. He led the Golden Flashes with a game-high 27 points.

Champion scored a lot of transition points to break the feisty Liberty press to make the run. The Golden Flashes made adjustments so the point guard could lead the 3 on 2 breaks.

“It worked out a couple times for us,” said Kish, whose team improved to 14-9. “Those buckets were big.”

The last thing Champion wants to be known as is a one-man team, Batcho’s team. He does average more than 20 points a game. If this Golden Flashes team wants to go further than a district semifinal, they must be versatile.

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo Drake Batcho (24) of Champion gets inside to score Saturday night against Liberty's Travis Myers.

Champion proved it tonight with three other double-figure scorers: Joe Abramovich (20), Gabe Deuble (11) and Chase Wheelock (10).

Kish said Abramovich has been one of his better players the past couple of games. All four of these Golden Flashes scorers had a bulk of their points in the second half.

If you think this is a one-man Champion team, you’ll be in for a shock when you play the Golden Flashes.

“All of our guards are shooters,” Abramovich said. “All of our guards can get to the paint. We’ve got another great big man who can put up points (Deuble). You try stopping that and Drake’s open.”

You couldn’t discount Liberty grittiness, either. This 7-17 Leopards team cut the deficit to nine a handful of times in the fourth quarter as the Leopards had second and third chances. Ezell Brown who had 17 points and 13 rebounds had plenty to do with that process. Dra Rushton led Liberty with 18 points.

The Leopards outrebounded Champion, 36-31.

Liberty coach Chris Kohl said he was proud of how his team kept fighting this season and in Saturday’s game.

“These guys haven’t quit all year long,” he said. “That’s what I just told them, how proud I was of their effort tonight. Past couple of games we’ve been playing well.

“We struggled shooting a little bit tonight. That was the difference. A few more buckets in the first half and it’s a whole different ballgame.”

Just as fierce as Liberty was on the press and the boards, the Golden Flashes became real physical during the second half by exerting themselves, which led to foul trouble for both sides.

The Liberty post tandem of Derek Gilcher and David Sewell both fouled out with a couple minutes remaining, giving way to Champion to dominate the interior.

Liberty was facing the likes of powerful, interior forces like Batcho (6-4) and Deuble (6-3).

“We always say with Sewell and Gilcher we have eight fouls to give,” Kohl said. “We used them all tonight.”

Rushton and Brown each played with four fouls during the fourth quarter, so did Abramovich and Wheelock.

The biggest adjustment was Champion’s aggressiveness, something that carried the Golden Flashes to district play.

No more lackadaisical play where Liberty was getting multiple chances at the bucket. That was the first half.

“Once we picked up our intensity, we were able to rebound,” Abramovich said. “That translates to the offensive side. You go to the hoop and draw fouls.”