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LaBrae eliminated by league rival Crestview

NEW WATERFORD — The six-seeded Crestview Rebels took two out of three in their series with LaBrae as they knocked off the eighth-seeded Vikings 51-42 Saturday afternoon in a sectional bracket final matchup. The teams split their regular season meetings as members of the Mahoning Valley Athletic Conference, Gray Tier.

The Rebels improve to 15-9 on the season and will advance to play at the third-seeded Brookfield Warriors Wednesday night. The Rebels knocked off the Warriors twice during league play during the regular season.

“There weren’t any real surprises, we knew their personnel, and for the most part kind of knew what to expect,” Rebels coach Aaron Blatch said. “We talked about being the best version of ourselves, and we felt if we did that we would have a great opportunity. When I was just talking to Payton, she felt this was the best game we played all year. It’s definitely on the shortlist.”

The familiarity has its downside, as both teams know what the other is going to throw at them.

“We knew it was going to be a close one, a real dogfight,” Vikings coach Mandy Rowe said. “The first game we controlled them pretty well defensively, and they didn’t shoot well. Last Saturday we played them here (at Crestview) and lost in overtime.”

In what was a seesaw battle, the Rebels utilized a key two-minute stretch to distance themselves and keep the Vikings from coming back. With the Vikings leading 32-31 with less than a minute remaining in the third quarter, the Rebels Emily Hill hit a basket, followed by a three from Krista Perry at the buzzer to give the Rebels a 37-32 lead at the end of the period. The Rebels carried that momentum into the fourth quarter as Ashton Hughes converted a bucket and Payton Huff followed with a three to boost the Rebel’s lead to 10-points at 42-32.

“Payton Huff, in today’s game, probably equaled her three-point total from her freshman, sophomore and junior year combined,” Blatch said about the senior’s four 3-pointers Saturday. “It has been something that she has gotten more comfortable in as the year has gone on. This has not been something that has been natural to her, not in her comfort zone. I thought in this moment, her last game on her home floor, to be able to knock down four buckets in addition to all the other stuff she did I’m just extremely proud of how she stepped up today.”

The Vikings would fight back in the final minutes as they would cut the deficit down to just six at 46-40 when Laura McCoy hit a jumper with just under two minutes left. But, Perry would convert 5-of-6 free throws in the final 1:06 of the game to seal the victory for the Rebels.

“I thought today she was really smart about giving the ball up when she had to, she has worked her whole career for this, to close these things out,” Blatch said about Perry’s performance late. “And we have all the confidence in the world that she is going to be able to that.”

The Rebels held a 15-13 lead at the end of the first quarter and led 23-20 at the intermission. The two teams combined to be either tied or switch leads nine times up to the final minute of the third quarter when the Rebels pulled away.

The Vikings may schedule an additional game or two depending on the league opponent’s availability. If no one is available, they will have closed the season with an 8-8 overall record.

“We lose two seniors that have been with me for four years,” Rowe said. “They are four-year letter winners so there are some big shoes to fill. But I told the underclassmen that if they don’t like this feeling then we need to get in this offseason and work at it. It’s up to you. We’re putting the ball in their hands with what they want to do in the offseason. We’re going to try to get going again as soon as possible.”

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