SALEM - Embrace the moment. That was the message that Lisbon coach Chris Huckshold gave to his team before the Blue Devils' 38-37 win over Columbiana in a Division III sectional opener at Salem High School on Tuesday night.
"I was watching our warm-ups and we had a little deer in the headlights look," Huckshold said. "They were in a position where they have never been before. You come up here and practice, but practices are never like games. You have a crowd of people yelling and student sections. It's a fun environment for the kids to be in."
For Lisbon five starters, it was their first tournament start. After overcoming some understandable jitters early on, the Blue Devils (10-13) were able to poise themselves when they needed to against the Clippers (4-19).
"You just kind of pat guys on the back and tell them to calm down and that it's just another game," junior Matt Spencer said. "It makes it a lot more intense with our student section going crazy and their student section going crazy. It was an exciting, longtime rivalry and it was good to know that Lisbon still has it."
The old-school rivalry renewed in postseason form lived up to that designation. Lisbon and Columbiana jockeyed for position through the duration of the first half. With each basket one scored, their opponent countered.
"We just kind of had the attitude that we beat them a few days ago we can do it again," Lisbon senior Corey Brammer said. "And that helped a lot because we weren't nervous since we just played them."
The Clippers closed out the final three minutes of the half on a 7-0 run spurred by Jake DeJong and Austin Miner, that gave them a 21-17 lead at the half. Miner started the spurt at 3:03 with a basket and DeJong capped the half with a basket and a subsequent three from the corner to send the Clips into the room with the lead.
DeJong led all scorers with 15 points. Kyle Bryan added 11 points for Columbiana.
"That just speaks to the character of these kids that we have," Columbiana coach Jason Baker said. "I couldn't be more proud of the effort that those kids display tonight, they laid it all on the line and they have nothing to be ashamed of."
The Clippers have been stung at times this season with the inability to score points. At no time did it burn them worse than in the fourth quarter on Tuesday night. Columbiana managed just five points in the final frame and was held scoreless for the first 5:15 of the quarter.
"I think it was a couple of things, I think we started to force, but we had open shots we just couldn't put the ball in the basket," Baker said. "And that has troubled us all year, we go through stretches where we just can't score."
Lisbon capitalized on that opportunity, and took their first lead since the opening stanza with a three-pointer from Josh Craig. It was the third chance the Blue Devils had with the basketball on that particular possession.
"We had the rebound, they just took it out of our hands. That happened three or four times in the second half," Baker said. "The bottom line is, you give up 38 points in a game, you have a good shot to win."
Craig led the Blue Devils with 11 points and eight rebounds. Austin Rutecki also poured in double figures with 10 points and eight rebounds.
With seemingly no life due to the sudden inept offense, Columbiana's Kyle Bryan gave a flicker of hope to the Clipper bench with a three-point play in the final minute. Unfortunately, the Clippers sent Josh Liberati to the line on the ensuing possesion for the Blue Devils. He connected on one of two free throws, and that's all they would need.
"Our kids have been in that boat a lot this year where we have had some close games," Huckshold said. "We have had opportunities to get wins but a turnover here, a missed shot there. Tonight those things went our way."
Columbiana had two final chances to score in the games final seconds. With a last-ditch effort on an inbound play with 1.2 second on the clock, the Clippers were never able to get a shot off, which sent the young Blue Devils into celebration.
"I told them to embrace their emotions tonight and put it on the floor as a positive," Huckshold said. "I think early it kind of hurt us, but I will take any win."
Lisbon plays Akron Manchester at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Salem High School.