Garfield makes Blue Tier statement
CHAMPION — There was a lot on the line for the Garfield High School boys basketball team in Tuesday night’s non-league contest in Champion.
The G-Men were looking to make a statement after earning the top seed in the Division III district at Warren over the weekend. They also want to stay sharp as they try to win the Portage Trail Conference-County Division in their final season in that league.
Next season, the G-Men will be competing in the Blue Tier of the All-American Conference, alongside Champion.
With all that on the line, it seemed fitting that the G-Men defeated Champion by virtue of its big advantage at the free-throw line, winning by a score of 58-47.
Garfield shot 22-for-29 from the line and Champion was 7-for-11.
“I’ll take 22-for-29 every game, especially in a close game like this one was,” Garfield coach Andrew Olesky said. “We’ve had some nights like this, but every free throw tonight seemed to be important ones until near the end. Champion kept pressuring us, trying to get back into the game and you have to give them a lot of credit. They never stopped.”
Garfield, which moved its record to 17-2, led just 24-22 at halftime, despite the Golden Flashes being whistled for 15 fouls to just five for the G-Men.
“We played well defensively most of the game and I was very pleased with the kids’ effort and determination,” Champion coach Nathan Kish said. “I’m happy with where our guys are. They’ve improved tremendously from the start of the season.”
The G-Men turned up the defensive pressure to the next notch during the third quarter and used a 21-11 scoring advantage to lead 45-33 entering the fourth quarter.
“This season has kind of been a little unexpected,” said Garfield senior guard Nick Pitsinger, who scored 18 points and had four assists. “Our defense has been special. Our defense leads to a lot of easy points in transition and I think it’s the key to the season. I think we’re by far the best defensive team in our league.
“The 3-2 run-and-jump is our go-to defense when we want to force turnovers or when we want to speed up the pace of the game. It definitely helped us tonight.”
The Flashes trailed 31-30 after a 3-pointer from Chase Lindsay, but the G-Men used a 14-3 run in the last 4:38 of the quarter.
“I thought we were able to force more turnovers in the second half, and when we converted that into points, it enabled us to turn right around and apply more pressure,” Olesky said. “That’s our style. It was definitely contrasting styles tonight and Champion used their athleticism and patience to keep the pace in their favor in the first half.”
“It was good for us to play this type of game. We haven’t played many of those this year. We’re an uptempo team. But give credit to Champion. They’re a good team that I think is going to make some noise in the tournament. We respect them and we could see them again in a district semifinal.”
Austin Peterson, a 6-foot-2 senior forward, scored 10 of his team-high 20 points in the third quarter and took advantage when Champion’s Abe Bayus, a 6-5 senior forward, went to the bench in foul trouble.
Peterson averages 17.5 points, 10 rebounds and 4 assists per game. Champion limited Jared Simon, who averages 14.5 points and Kaidan Spade, who averages 13.5 per game, to a combined eight points. So Pitsinger, who averages 10 points, stepped up and Trystan Gedeon added 12 points.
“Nick is our defensive stalwart and he had a big game for us tonight offensively,” Olesky said. “That’s what’s good about this team. We have scoring balance and a lot of players who could score more if needed. Every day, these kids are expecting more and more out of themselves.
“We’re 8-1 in our league, tied with Crestwood, and we both have two games left. We’ll be playing each other in the finale Feb. 21. So we have a lot to play for and we’re laser-focused. We’re also playing some big non-league games. The win over Newton Falls last week was big for our seeding. We’ll be playing Newton Falls and Champion and these teams when we join (the All-American Conference-Blue Tier) next year, so this is good for us.”
Champion, which got no closer than nine points on three occasions in the fourth quarter, was led by Bayus, who netted 21 points. Chase Lindsay added nine points for the Flashes, who slipped to 10-11.
“In the second half, (Garfield) got into the paint too much,” Kish said. “They did a nice job slipping some screens and getting backdoor on us for easy buckets. They’re very good in transition and they got some easy ones there, too. You miss an assignment or help defense once or twice and they’re on a quick 6-0 run. We also missed some free throws and layups down the stretch. If we make a few of those, it’s a dogfight to the end.”