LISBON-The Springfield Tigers entered this season knowing they lacked the individual skill from their last two conference championship teams, but also knew that if everyone pitched in there was enough collective talent to pull off a three-peat.
Fast-forward three months and the Tigers are once again champions of the Inter-Tri County League upper tier.
Getting key contributions across their roster, the Tigers were able to come up several key defensive stops down the stretch to outlast Lisbon 58-53 in a nail-biting overtime game Friday at Lisbon High School.
Springfield (15-4, 12-1 ITCL upper tier) avenges its 52-50 loss to the Blue Devils last month and clinches the outright conference championship. It is the third straight upper tier title for the Tigers and the 24th conference championship in school history. Lisbon (15-3, 10-3) could have shared the title with a win, but falls two games back with one to play.
"You look at the history of Springfield basketball and there is a lot of tradition," Springfield junior center Mark Shuler said. "There have been a lot of repeat champions. This group was trying to do their part to keep up the tradition."
The Tigers lost three starters from last year's undefeated conference team-including honorable mention All-Ohioan Eoghan Bees-but came into this season believing that their overall depth and competitive attitude would be enough for another title run. Both were on display Friday night.
Shuler had 17 points and 12 rebounds, including the tying free throw with 40 seconds left in regulation and four key boards in overtime. Sophomore guard Graham Mincher-in his first season as a starter-scored a game high 21 points, including a clutch three-pointer that tied the game late in the fourth quarter. Guards Hunter Snyder and Nathan Simboli provided tough defense with three steals a piece.
"At first we weren't sure what we were going to do without Eoghan," Shuler said. "But we realized that as a unit we were still really good. We knew if we competed hard on defense we would have a chance."
"No matter what happened we knew would compete every night," Springfield coach Eric Fender said. "We wound up getting contributions from somebody new every night it seemed like."
With the game in the balance throughout the night, each of Lisbon's five starters played the entire game. Austin Rutecki led the way with 21 points and 10 rebounds, Matt Spencer had 13 points and 10 rebounds, while Josh Liberati had nine assists.
"It was one of those games where it was a shame somebody had to lose," Lisbon coach Chris Huckshold said. "Both teams left everything they had out there, we just couldn't convert in overtime."
For the second time between these two teams, the finish was a cliffhanger. A contested lay-up by Avery Andric gave the Blue Devils a 49-48 lead with 53 seconds left. After Shuler tied it by splitting a pair of free-throws, Simboli came up with a steal to give the Tigers a shot at the win, but Mincher was long with a floater and the buzzer sounded.
"There was so much intensity in the last two minutes," Mincher said. "We knew after the last game that it was going to be a battle and it was."
Mincher gave the Tigers the lead for good a minute into overtime with a lay-in off a steal by Simboli. The Blue Devils had plenty of looks at the basket the rest of the way but could not convert. Shuler banked in a shot to give Springfield a 54-51 lead with a minute left. After a Lisbon miss, the Tigers were able to salt the game away with free throws.
"It all starts on defense for us," Shuler said. "We compete hard on that end every night and really work to contest shots as hard as we can."
"Eventhough we had been on the floor all night, nobody was out of gas," Lisbon forward Matt Spencer said. "We've practiced to play this long. We just didn't hit our shots."
Springfield won the jayvee game 57-44. Colin Sweeney had 17 points for Lisbon. Tyler McLaughlin had 18 points for Springfield.
The Tigers are 39-2 over the past three seasons in the ITCL upper tier.
The Blue Devils shot 3-14 from three-point range
"We had some good looks," Huckshold said. "With Springfield in a zone it's hard to tell our shooters not to shoot. The bounces just didn't go our way."
Lisbon athletic director Don Feren estimated that Lisbon and Springfield sold between 150 and 175 presale tickets between them.
The 50/50 prize was $177.
SPRINGFIELD SCORING: Mark Schuler 7-3-17, Jake Ohlin 1-2-5, Graham Mincher 6-5-21, Hunter Snyder 1-3-5, Brandon Chamberlain 2-0-4, Nate Simboli 0-0-0, Ryan Kohler 0-0-0, Jordan Peterson 2-0-6, TEAM TOTALS: 19, 14-24: 58.
LISBON SCORING: Matt Spencer 5-2-13, Josh Craig 5-0-10, Josh Liberati 1-2-4, Austin Rutecki 9-1-21, Avery Andric 1-3-5. TEAM TOTALS: 21, 8-12: 53.
Three-point goals: Springfield 6 (Mincher 3, Peterson 2, Ohlin), Lisbon 3 (Rutecki 2, Spencer).