Champion ends Newton Falls’ season, advances to district semifinal

MINERAL RIDGE – If the Champion Golden Flashes needed to work on their foul shooting, they had a chance to get in some overtime Thursday against the Newton Falls Tigers.

An aggressive, pressure-style defense played by the Tigers resulted in a run of fouls and 33 trips to the line for the Flashes. Champion connected on 22 free throws, including 10-of-11 by Mackenzie Kiser, to pull off an upset of the second-seeded Tigers in a second-round game of the Division III girls’ district basketball tournament.

The Tigers had a 16-9 advantage from the field, but they were a paltry 7 of 10 at the line. That wasn’t going to cut it with the opponent camping out at the line.

“We practice a lot of free-throw shooting, and it definitely paid off,” said Kiser, who finished with 16 points.

The Flashes (15-9) advance to play third-seeded Pymatuning Valley in a district semifinal Thursday at 6 p.m. Py Valley advanced last night with a 68-42 win over Springfield Local.

It was a strange game for the Tigers, who finished the season with a 19-4 record. They played well early and seemed to be in control with a 23-17 halftime lead, but everything went wrong in the third quarter when they managed just two points on a fielder by Destinee Hutson.

The Flashes, who frustrated the Tigers with a compact zone defense, took advantage of the situation to score 10 straight points in the quarter on the way to a 29-25 lead entering the final period.

Gabby Lamont and Jordyn Skaggs got things headed in the right track for Champion with back-to-back 3-point shots to open the third session.

“My main job on the team is I shoot 3s most of the time,” said Lamont, who had a game-high 17 points. “I just shot it like I always do and they went in luckily.”

When the Flashes stretched the lead to 34-25 early in the fourth quarter, Champion coach Jeff Thompson knew what was coming all-out defensive pressure. The Flashes turned the ball over eight times in the final eight minutes, but they beat the press enough to draw nine fouls and seal the win at the line.

“I thought we played timid in the first half,” Thompson said. “The last time we played them we moved the ball well the whole game. In the third quarter we played great defense. The defense was solid, but we started to move the ball a little bit more offensively.

“Our goal coming into the game was pretty simple. We wanted to force them to hit jump shots. We wanted to keep them off the offensive boards, which means they don’t go to the free-throw line, and we wanted to go to the free-throw line.”

The teams should have known each other’s tendencies well after having met twice in All American Conference play. Newton Falls won the first game, with Champion getting even in the rematch.

“We play them a lot and we know how to get it through (the press),” Lamont said. “We know if we attack that we’ll get to the line.”

The Tigers got as close as two points (34-32) on a Hutson fielder midway through the fourth quarter. Skaggs then made one free throw and Kiser followed with a layup. Heather Shaver tacked on one more point at the line, and Kiser pushed the lead to 40-32 with another fielder.

“We like to play that up-tempo style, and I think we might have got a little too aggressive,” Tigers coach Mark Baker said. “We had some quick fouls, and then we had to change our style a little, and we went cold.

“We’d make a couple of shots and they would come out a little bit, and then we wouldn’t go back to being on the attack. I don’t know how many times we got to the line, and that’s not our style. We like to get to the front of the rim and get ourselves to the line.”

Hutson had 11 points and Brooke Barreca had 10 for the Tigers.