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Lordstown fights off COVID concerns to defeat Chalker

SOUTHINGTON — To say that COVID-19 has presented some issues when it comes to just about everything might be the biggest understatement of the year.

For the Lordstown Red Devils, it has caused insurmountable damage in that Saturday night was just their second game of the season and they are currently playing with just six varsity players. Two of their main rotation players are out due to COVID concerns and four players were coming off of COVID.

Still, never doubt anyone when it comes to their determination as the Red Devils dug deep to edge the Chalker Wildcats 54-46 in Northeastern Athletic Conference play.

“We knew we had concerns if we would have enough gas in the tank,” Lordstown coach Brian Force said. “I was so proud of our kids for gutting it out and fighting. We had a guy foul out so we’re down to five varsity players. Our kids fought it out despite being sick and with their backs against the wall so I was real proud of how gritty they were.”

The Red Devils (2-0, 2-0) were paced by four players in double figures with Seth Stevens and Aiden Force leading the way with 14 apiece.

At least early on, it seemed like everything working against the Red Devils was going to cost them as a Jordan Keller dunk erased an early 10-5 Lordstown lead.

That 5-0 run to end the opening quarter carried over as each team traded baskets in the second frame before Lordstown etched out a 20-16 with 3:47 left in the half.

The Wildcats (1-6, 0-6) started pressing the Red Devils and it culminated into a 12-0 run to end the half and a 28-20 lead.

“Kudos to Chalker for pressing us,” Force said. “It really drained us. I thought we just ran out of gas. We quit rebounding. We quit rotating on defense. They turned our bad passes and quick shots into quick, easy transition shots for them.”

Kellar’s dunk gave the Wildcats a brief edge.

“I’d say the run started right then and there (Kellar’s dunk),” Chalker coach Matthew Yoder said. “We closed out the half on a 5-0 run and then kept it going into the second quarter. We’re grinding and keeping up the pressure. They got into a little bit of foul trouble.”

Kellar led the Wildcats with a game-high 15 points.

The Red Devils responded back with a 9-2 run which forced Yoder to call a timeout with 4:35 left in the quarter.

“I thought in the third quarter, we really shared the ball well and were able to beat their press,” Force said. “It got us some really easy looks at the rim, which was a good turning point.”

That it did as Lordstown tied the game at 35-all heading into the fourth quarter.

“We came out in the second half and just fell away from some things that we talked about in practice, winning basketball,” Yoder said.

Kellar picking up his third foul in the third quarter was deadly for the Wildcats as he’s their main scoring threat. He sat and it started to spell some bad tendencies.

“Jordan can’t pick up that foul and get in foul trouble,” Yoder said. “Having to sit him the majority of the third quarter, allowed them to slip back into it. He’s one of the best players in the league. So he comes out and they go on a little run. They bring it back.”

Yoder still felt comfortable going into the fourth quarter and in the early stages, it was obvious why, with each team trading baskets.

The Wildcats had built a four-point lead, 43-39, after a pair of free throws from Derek Sherwood with 5:15 left in the game.

Instead of building on that, Lordstown responded with a 9-0 run with no shot bigger than Aiden Force’s 3-pointer from the corner to give the Red Devils a lead they would never relinquish.

“Seth Stevens had two big buckets and then Aiden hit the big 3,” Force said. “From there we kind of took control of the game. It really was just a team effort and I thought we defended well.”

It was Force’s timeout though that seemed to rally the Red Devils when they needed it most as they closed the game on a 12-3 run.

“We talked about trying to spread the floor and then when we got that lead by two possessions, we just didn’t want anything but a layup so we tried to spread them out,” he said. “I thought our team did a nice job there spreading the floor and getting back cuts and they had to overplay to try and get us turned over, and we’re able to convert some layups there.

“I thought that was key. The difference in the game was being able to get layups and keep them out of the paint on the other side. We had a guy foul out so we’re down to five varsity players and our kids fought it despite being sick. Their backs against the wall so I was really proud of how gritty they were.”

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