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Warriors win, but Salem still in first

BELOIT — Salem’s boys’ basketball team impressively eclipsed a seven-point deficit with 1:09 left in regulation to force overtime, but West Branch answered by outscoring the rival Quakers 10-2 in the extra session to post a 53-45 win over Salem in the West Branch Fieldhouse Tuesday night.

“That (a rivalry like Salem vs. West Branch) is what makes high sports so great,” said West Branch coach Michael Brown. “That’s why it’s important to have a rivalry that kids can get up for and records get thrown out the window.”

The loss dropped the Quakers’ overall record to 7-4 and they finish the first round of Eastern Buckeye Conference play all alone in first place at 6-1.

“I told the guys when you have a target on your back as you beat some teams and have some success, this is what we can expect the entire second round through the league,” said Salem coach Jeff Andres. “Hopefully, we’ll learn from this.”

With the win, West Branch is now 9-3 overall and evened its EBC record at 3-3.

Leading Salem was Drew Weir who had 15 points, including four of the Quakers’ nine three-pointers in the game, while Hunter Griffith and Brock Young added 11 and 10 points, respectively.

Dru DeShields of West Branch led all scorers with 17 points, while Josh Gregory had 12 points and Jaxon Hendershott finished with 10 markers.

“It’s just great, a great win,” said DeShields. “We take pride in our defense. We played great defense and finished.”

Foul shooting was also key as West Branch 15-of-20 from the foul line while the Quakers were six of 11.

“They (the Warriors) shot it pretty well from the free throw line,” said Andres. “In regulation, I think they were 15-for-15, so hats off to them. We played hard and they played hard and got after it.”

For fans who love great defense, the West Branch Fieldhouse was the place to be as the Quakers and Warriors played some outstanding defense throughout the contest.

Trailing by three possessions at 43-36 with just 1:08 left in regulation, Salem made an incredible comeback, outscoring West Branch 7-0 when Weir and Griffith buried three-pointers and Jon Null added a free throw on an intentional foul called on West Branch to tie things at 43-43 with 22.7 seconds left. The Quakers also got possession of the ball with a chance to win it but a 10-footer from the left side of the key missed the mark, forcing overtime.

“They just believed,” stated Andres of Salem’s comeback with little time left. “We were preaching to get a stop and a score and get another stop and a score and it happened. I think to have an opportunity to score at the end we probably could have managed that situation a little better than we did, but we did get a shot and had an opportunity to win the game and it wasn’t meant to be, and sometimes that happens.”

West Branch quickly took the lead in the extra session when Nick Wilson hit a runner from the left side, putting the Warriors up 45-43 with 3:36 showing. Moments later, Wilson fired a high lob to DeShields on an alley oop pass who put it in and the hosts led 47-43 and West Branch went on a 10-2 run to seal the win.

“It feels great to be back playing,” said Wilson who missed over a month with an injury. “I missed playing with my brothers and it was horrible sitting out,” added the West Branch junior who took two charges and had some key assists in the game.

“We just talked about being gritty,” said Brown of his talk to the team before overtime. “I thought the difference in the overtime was the toughness. I thought we had guys who really wanted it. We challenged them and they obviously answered the bell.”

The Warriors’ coach thought this year’s team learned a lot about toughness watching last year’s EBC title squad.

“They watched the seniors from last year play with grittiness down the stretch of some tough, close games and we mimicked that, I thought, in the overtime tonight,” said Brown.

Salem was in foul trouble throughout the game and Weir and Null both fouled out in the extra session.

“We have to be better playing with foul trouble,” said Andres. “A couple guys had two and ended up getting their third foul and had to sit. With Null and Drew (Weir) on the bench, we’re obviously better with those two guys on the floor.”

Salem got into foul trouble early in the first half, as three of the Quakers’ five starters, including Young, Null and Weir picked up two first-quarter fouls and spent time on the bench.

In a low-scoring defensive battle in the first quarter, West Branch led 10-7 after one as Josh Gregory and Dru DeShields led the Warriors in the first quarter with four points each. Hunter Griffith led the Quakers in the first quarter with four points.

Salem’s foul difficulties continued in the second quarter as Null and Weir picked up their third fouls and went to the bench again. The Quakers also committed eight first-half turnovers. DeShields had 10 points at the break for West Branch and Jaxon Hendershott had seven as West Branch outscored the Quakers 17-6 in the frame to take a 27-13 lead at intermission. Young was Salem’s leading scorer at half with six points.

Salem came out of the locker room to outscore West Branch 17-9 in the third quarter to pull within 36-30 entering the fourth quarter and also outscored the Warriors 13-7 in the final regulation frame to force the overtime.

Brown said the EBC is really balanced this winter.

“There’s a ton of parity (in the EBC),” stated the West Branch coach. “It’s a competitive league and it’s more balanced this year than it was last year. Especially on the road it’s not easy. If you go out flat, kind of like the Pittsburgh Steelers did, then you’re going to be in trouble.’

West Branch won the junior varsity game by a 40-27 final. Lance Bailey led Salem with nine points. Thomas Egli paced West Branch with 11 points.

Salem begins the second round of EBC action when it travels to Minerva Friday evening.

“They (the Lions) beat a good Alliance team at Alliance and scored 77 points against them,” said Andres. “We’re on the road there and in the league and we’ll like our wounds here and try to get better and go down there Friday night and see if we can come away with a win.”

West Branch hosts Alliance Friday night.

SALEM: 7- 6-17-13- 2–45

W. BRANCH: 10-17- 9- 7-10–53

SALEM SCORING: Hunter Griffith 4-2-11, Sam Walter 1-0-3, Landon Cooper 0-0-0, Jon Null 1-1-3, Brock Young 3-2-10, Drew Weir 5-1-15, Davin Koskinen 1-0-3, Cade Rohm 0-0-0. TEAM TOTALS: 15, 6-11: 45.

WEST BRANCH SCORING: Nick Wilson 2-0-4, Jed Smith 0-4-4, Jaxon Hendershott 4-0-10, Josh Gregory 4-4-12, Jarrod Rose 0-0-0, JD Brain 1-0-2, Dru DeShields 6-5-18, Andrew Coffee 0-2-2, Brock Smith. TEAM TOTALS: 17, 15-20: 53.

Three-point goals: Salem 9 (Drew Weir 4, Brock Young 2, Hunter Griffith 1, Davin Koskinen 1, Sam Walter 1). West Branch 3 (Jaxon Hendershott 2, Dru DeShields 1).

Total fouls: Salem 18, West Branch 11.

Fouled out: Drew Weir, Jon Null.

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