LEETONIA - With only three league games remaining in the season, every one of them is a must win for the Wellsville Tigers if they want to erase a one-game deficit in the ITCL lower tier title chase.
Down by four at the half, the Tigers rallied with a 25-point third quarter to to claim a 74-68 win on the road against Leetonia .
"We didn't have a great day and we started off pretty slow," said Wellsville junior Camden Douglas. "We came back out a little better in the second half, but nowhere near we needed to be"
Douglas finished with a game-high 19 points, including a crucial three-pointer to open the fourth quarter that pushed the Tigers' lead back to double digits.
The Tigers (13-3, 8-2 in the ITCL lower tier) and Bears (7-10, 4-7) were involved in a high scoring affair earlier this season on Dec. 18, which saw Wellsville come away with an 87-70 victory.
"I was hoping that it wouldn't be as high scoring as last time. I wanted to play better defense but it didn't happen tonight," Douglas said. " We get beat off of the first step and are slow beating them back to the spot."
The 13th win of the season for the Tigers was a small step to keep alive the hope of securing the first league title since 2008 for the school. After a loss to Southern Local on Jan. 18 appeared to set the Tigers too far back, they received help in the form of a McDonald loss to Lowellville, which kept alive the hope for a win in a rematch in Wellsville's final league contest of the year on the Tigers' home floor. McDonald knocked off Wellsville earlier this season, 81-79.
First, however, comes a matchup with those same Rockets that edged McDonald. "Every game is a must win now as far as the league goes, it's just like the tournament," Wellsville coach David "Bug" Thompson said. "We have McDonald again on the eighth, but we have to get through Lowellville on Friday."
If Wellsville is to come out with win number 14 in its' last league game on the road, their emphasis on defense will need to be keener than their effort on Tuesday night.
"We had a good come back in the second half but we shouldn't have to go in there and talk about that," Thompson said. "We needed this day undercontrol take care of the ball and start running our offense. We needed to play better defense. We still didn't do that, but we got by."
Leetonia made things easier for the Wellsville's turnabout in the second half by missing 14 total free-throws - seven in the first half and seven in the second.
"That's the first time all year that we have missed free-throws like that," Leetonia coach Eric Whitmer said. "When you miss the front ends of one-and-one, it's just like a turnover. Tonight we went to the basket in earned our way to the free-throw line, but we just didn't cash in. Wellsville has the athletes to turn it back on you really quick."
As the game wore on, and those crucial missed free-throws began to add up, it placed an even larger microscope on defensive miscues that the Bears made.
"We made some mistakes defensively where we doubled down when I really didn't want them to double down," Whitmer said. "That left the Douglas kid open to knock down some shots and against the good teams, that's a mistake you can't make. Against the lesser teams, the kids don't even realize it's a mistake."
With open looks, Douglas didn't hesitate to knock them down.
"It helps a lot that I can make myself a better scorer," Douglas said. "But as a team, we have to keep our composure and play as a team. We focus on one-game at a time, that's how we approach it in practice."
Nate Scott also joined Douglas in double digits, piling up 18 points and collecting five rebounds. Seth Bradford added a double-double effort of his own, netting 12 points and pulling down 10 rebounds.
Brendon Carr also contributed 10 points.
The task for Leetonia doesn't lighten as they await league-leading McDonald to arrive on Friday. Thompson said that with the effort put forth from the Bears on Tuesday against his team, he wouldn't mind a little help coming from Leetonia on Friday.
"If they play like they played tonight and she like they shot against us they can beat them," Thompson said. "I'm hoping they can, that would be nice to win it out right instead of splitting it."
WELLSVILLE SCORING: Nate Scott 6-4-18, Camden Douglas 6-4-19, Jordan Sloan 2-0-4, Seth Bradford 6-0-12, Brendon Carr 5-0-10, Antonio Fultz 4-1-9, Tyshawn Franklin 1-0-2. TOTALS: 30, 9-15: 74
LEETONIA SCORING: Luke Janci 2-0-6, Cody Valentine 2-1-6, Braden Dattilio 3-2-10, Josh Faulkner 0-5-5, Trent Ferry 8-0-16, Ian Sevenich 3-2-11, Zach VanGiesen 1-2-4, Ian stecker 4-2-10. TOTALS: 23, 14-28: 68
Three-Pointers: Wellsville 5 (Douglas 3, Scott 2), Leetonia 8 (Sevenich 3, Janci 2, Dattilio 2, Valentine).