JM tops Lordstown in battle of young teams

NORTH JACKSON — A 10-minute drive down Bailey Road is pretty much all that separates Lordstown and Jackson-Milton high schools. The Red Devils made the short trip to the home of the Blue Jays Tuesday evening for a game of hoops.

A tightly contested affair saw the Blue Jays prevail, 37-30, thanks in part to the play of a group of sophomores.

Forward A.J. Bouch helped seal the victory when he powered a lay-up in while being fouled in the closing seconds. Bouch finished with six points and five rebounds on the night.

“We played really hard. We can only improve from here,” Bouch said. “That play at the end was big. It really dropped their confidence. I don’t think they thought they had any chance of winning after that.”

Fellow sophomores Gavin Sahli, Mason Robison, Cole Grope and Nicholas McGinnis Jr. all played key roles for the Blue Jays. Sahli led Jackson-Milton with 10 points. Robison had 8 points and also led the team in rebounding with 10, and assists with 5.

“Our kids are playing hard,” Blue Jays coach Steve Procopio said. “All in all, they did everything we asked them to do, and they finished the ball game. We’re playing seven sophomores and a couple of seniors. So, they’re a young group that’s starting to get their groove.

“At a lot of points in the game, there are five sophomores on the floor. It’s a strong group. We really believe in them. This is only the beginning for this group. The sky is the limit for them.”

Lordstown held a 7-5 lead after one quarter. They extended the lead to 10-5 on a three-pointer by junior Austin Milhoan to start the second. Three minutes later, Grope tied the game with a three of his own. The teams really battled at the free-throw line for the remainder of the half and Jackson-Milton held a 15-14 halftime lead.

Both teams came out fast to start the second half. They exchanged buckets before Lordstown junior point guard Marcel Jenkins hit a three for a 19-17 lead. Jenkins led Lordstown with 10 points and four steals. Lordstown built a five point lead, but Jackson-Milton came back, and McGinnis Jr. had a and-one at the end of the third to give the Blue Jays a 27-25 lead.

The Red Devils made some untimely mistakes in the fourth and didn’t have much luck finding the bottom of the net. The Blue Jays scored the first six points to extend the lead to eight.

Lordstown cut the lead to four after senior Nick Frank made a highlight reel play. Frank cut in front of a pass at full speed. His momentum took him out of bounds, so he bounced the ball backwards through his legs while airborne to a teammate. Jenkins finished off the play with a lay-in to make it 33-29. The Blue Jays played tough defense down the stretch to close out the victory.

“I thought our kids played really well,” Lordstown coach Brian Force said. “I give a lot of credit to their defense. It was a scrappy high school basketball game, a little ugly at times. I’m proud of how our kids fought, despite not making as many shots as we’d like. Late in the game, it just kind of got away from us.”