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Lordstown wins first tourney game under Force

When Brian Force started coaching the Lordstown High School boys basketball team in 2009, the Red Devils enjoyed instant success by winning their first league title in 37 years.

The journey has been up and down in the seasons that have followed. The years of dedication to the small school paid off Tuesday evening when Lordstown won the first tournament game of Force’s career, defeating Chalker 68-43 in a Division IV sectional first-round contest.

“Even the years when we had a better record than this, we never won a tournament game,” said Force, whose team improved to 9-12 by beating its Northeastern Athletic Conference rival. “This was big for us. My kids are really happy with that.”

The victory put the sixth-seeded Red Devils into the sectional bracket final Friday against third-seeded John F. Kennedy.

“We scrimmaged JFK earlier in the year,” Force said. “It’s going to be a tough match-up. We’ll put a game plan together and give them all we’ve got.”

After a tight first couple of minutes with the Wildcats, the Devils broke the game open with a 10-0 run to close out the first quarter. Jordan Vaught had a great assist to Austin Milhoan. Kaiden Anthony pulled down a rebound. Vaught swished a 3-pointer, and Milhoan hit one from behind the arc, as Lordstown led 16-5 heading to the second.

In the second quarter, Milhoan (team-high 13 points) drilled another 3-pointer. Jay Frank (12 points) put it up and in. Derek Sherwood dropped a pair of short jumpers for Chalker, but Seth Stevens’ nice feed to Vincent Spano (10 points) helped Lordstown take a 30-16 halftime lead.

“I’m real proud of how hard our guys played tonight,” Force said. “Our pressure was the difference. I told the kids to keep the gas pedal down and keep attacking. Chalker’s defense was stopping us, but eventually the dam sort of broke. We started converting those turnovers we were creating.”

The Wildcats had some fight left. James Stull had a steal and a 3-pointer. Jordan Kellar (game-high 22 points) was a force inside. Senior Lukas Rhodes drained one from long distance as Chalker cut the deficit to 36-26 with 4 minutes left in the third.

” Lukas Rhodes gave his heart and soul to us this year,” Chalker coach Mathew Yoder said. “He was the perfect senior for this group of kids. He taught the team more than basketball. It was about being good human beings, being respectful, and doing the right things. We start two freshmen. He never let them get down on themselves at all. He meant the world to us. I can’t say enough good things about him.”

Unfortunately for Chalker, the Devils got back on track. Aiden Force made a basket, and Spano and Anthony’s hard work helped Lordstown extend the advantage to 49-31 going to the fourth.

Anthony continued to pound the boards. Chayse Harris never stopped hustling for Chalker. Harris had a steal and a lay-up. Rhodes cleaned up a miss, but Stevens sliced through the defense and dished it to Cody Kibler who finished for Lordstown. Kibler got the ball again and went high off the glass for the score as the Lordstown fans cheered on the tournament triumph.

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