EAST PALESTINE - It's looking like the Inter-Tri County League upper tier is going to be a two-horse race the rest of the way.
Springfield has the lead at the top of the stretch with Mineral Ridge one length off the pace. As for the rest, they're just hoping to show.
East Palestine was the Tigers latest victim as Springfield practically led wire-to-wire in a 53-46 win on Tuesday.
Springfield is 9-2 overall and 8-0 in the league. Mineral Ridge, fresh off a victory over Crestview on Tuesday, is 7-1 in the league. The rest have at least four losses including East Palestine at 4-6 overall and 4-4 ITCL.
"We're trying to pull away," Springfield coach Eric Fender said. "This win tonight helped us gain a big lead on East Palestine, but we still have tough games left."
The forward duo of Mark Schuler and Jared McTigue had 17 points each to lead the Tigers against the physical Bulldogs.
"It was one of my better games," McTigue said. "I guess I got open and guys got me the ball and I scored."
McTigue said he's really impressed by the way the sophomore Schuler has been developing.
"He knows what to do," McTigue said. "He's growing and he's still young, but he's a good player."
"(Schuler) is stepping up," Fender said. "He's getting more confidence in his jump shot. He made a few tonight once he started seeing the ball fall in the hole pretty early. The hoop widens a bit when you do that. It becomes like throwing the ball in the ocean sometimes."
Eoghan Bees, who had been one of Springfield's top scoring threats earlier in the season, had three points against the Bulldogs, but was integral in managing the pace and controlling the offense.
"I've played with him all of my life, so I know what he's like and he knows what I'm like," McTigue said. "We have good chemistry."
East Palestine has now lost four straight against its rivals from down the road. The loss means the Bulldogs won't be in the discussion for the league title for the second straight season.
"I don't anticipate Springfield losing four out of their last six," East Palestine coach Tom Bingham said. "We're going to try to play spoiler and gain some momentum for the tournament."
Austen Reiser, a senior forward, kept the Bulldogs within range to make a run at a win, but the Tigers managed the lead good enough so that the threat never materialized.
"We wanted to find Reiser on defense," Fender said. "We know the other players are good players, but we know he's capable of putting up 30 or 40 points. We wanted to try to deny him as much as possible."
Reiser did manage 17 points and 16 rebounds. The only time East Palestine was even with Springfield was at 0-0 and 2-2. Springfield balanced a double-digit lead for most of the second half.
"I give them all the credit," East Palestine coach Tom Bingham said. "There's a reason they're 8-0 in the league. They executed well and they shot well. They also took care of the basketball."
Springfield also got some important support off the bench as Joe Wrask buried two key threes in the second quarter to push the Tigers out to their first double-digit advantage of the game.
"His confidence wasn't there coming down to the end of the first half of the year because he wasn't hitting some shots," Fender said. "He started building that against Jackson-Milton and that continued against East Palestine. He played a great role for us and hit some nice shots."
With an 11-point advantage heading into the fourth quarter, the Tigers ate large chunks of the clock and had no trouble avoiding any big run that they thought the Bulldogs might mount.
"We managed the lead really well," Fender said. "We had a few sloppy turnovers and at the end of the first half our shot selection wasn't too good at times, but we're still learning. We're only now exactly halfway through the season. We're going to get better."
Springfield won the jayvee game 39-21. Jared Musial had 16 points for the Tigers. Austin Reynolds had nine points for the Bulldogs.
Springfield is at South Range on Friday. East Palestine travels to United on Friday.