Falcons start fast, fend off Eagles


BEAVER — The Eagles’ Nest at Eastern High School, perhaps surprising to most and simply stunning to some, served as upset central in mid-December —when Wheelersburg and Valley visited, and both lost in the Southern Ohio Conference Division II.

Fortunately for the Minford Falcons, on Tuesday night to tip off 2023, they avoided the same fate as their Scioto County brethren —although it indeed emerged interesting inside the final few minutes.

But, in the end, the Falcons’ soaring start secured this SOC II triumph —as Minford muscled and raced its way out to a 20-point first-half advantage, before fending off the hard-charging Eagles for dear life late, and escaping Eastern with an 84-72 victory.

That’s right, the athletic, tall, talented and even highly-touted Falcons —from opening tip to final buzzer —never trailed or stood tied, and even scored at least 20 points in three of the four game quarters.

With 12 minutes and 54 full seconds gone by on Tuesday night, Minford had made 5-of-7 free throws and four of its seven total three-pointers —all en route to a seemingly commanding 43-23 cushion.

But the Falcons found themselves in quite the contest towards the end, as Eastern first sliced a 47-32 halftime deficit down to nine points three times (57-48 and 61-52 in the third quarter and 79-70 in the fourth) —and finally to a 79-72 tally with two-and-a-half minutes to go.

However, the Falcons finished the game as well as they started it —with bookend slam dunks by the six-foot and five-inch sophomore Bennett Kayser.

Kayser’s clinching dunk wasn’t as obvious or even emphatic as his opening one —but bottom line, the now 7-1 Falcons survived another Eastern upset bid to remain undefeated in the SOC II at 6-0.

Entering Friday night’s SOC II slate, the Falcons led Wheelersburg (3-1 in SOC II) —with Wheelersburg’s only league loss coming at Eastern on Dec. 16.

Northwest and Valley were both 3-2 in the division, as the Eagles upstaged the Indians (96-92 in double overtime) — only four days after picking off the Pirates (62-59).

Minford’s veteran head coach Josh Shoemaker was well-aware of Eastern’s potential, and simply stated his Falcons are elated to fly back to their nest with another league win.

The loss left the up-and-down Eagles at 5-5 —and at 2-4 in the SOC II.

“We told the guys that this team (Eastern) is for real. They’ve had some really good wins and they continue to get better. I’m just so impressed with Coach (Ethan) Leist and the job he’s done this year here. He has them ready to play. It was like a boxing match. We just kept hitting, hitting and hitting, and they just kept taking the punches and coming right back,” said Shoemaker. “Credit to their kids for every time we made a play, they came right back at us and never gave up. Eastern is a tough bunch of kids that are well-coached. I’m just glad we walked out of here with a win tonight, because they are a tough team and this is a tough place to play. Eastern really took it to us, and we have some beat up guys right now.”

The Falcons played an eight-man rotation compared to the Eagles’ six —as all five of Minford’s scorers eclipsed at least 13 points.

Myles Montgomery, the standout sophomore, went off for a game-high 25 — netting 10 total field goals including a pair of three-pointers.

Kayser, on eight field goals, and fellow 6-4 sophomore Jackson Shoemaker —on five total field goals and 5-of-8 free throws —scored 16 points apiece.

Joe Hannah — the 6-7 senior — sank five deuces and a pair of second-quarter treys towards 14 points, and fellow senior Adam Crank chipped in with 13 —on three twos, two threes, and a split of third-frame foul shots.

The Falcons forged first-quarter leads as large as 11 twice (21-10 and 24-13), as Hannah held it at 10 at 27-17 — with a corner-pocket three-ball only 30 seconds into the second.

By the 3:06 mark of the canto, Minford had doubled its difference to 43-23.

Montgomery made three foul shots in the period, as his putback of his own miss made it officially the 20-point margin.

Coach Shoemaker said the Falcons’ fast pace, and engineered by the speedy Montgomery, makes for quick runout baskets being a team staple.

But, Montgomery and company attacked the basket at will this time.

Tuesday’s tilt was actually the Falcons’ first game in almost two full weeks —when they lost to Huntington (W.Va.) 72-63 in the annual Ironton Classic for their only defeat so far.

“Myles is Myles. Got out in transition, he’s on the floor, fighting through bumps, defending. Bennett Kayser set the tone of the game, Joe Hannah was really good in the first half, Adam Crank hit another big shot and got out in transition,” said the coach. “The thing was we attacked, we continued attacking and just played hard.”

Minford maintained anywhere from a nine-to-15 point lead throughout the third quarter, before Montgomery made a triple from the wing with 4:36 left to make it 76-59.

Although, over the next two minutes and four seconds, a 13-3 run closed the gap to 79-72 —and Eastern appeared hell bent on another upset coming to pass.

That’s when Shoemaker stepped up his game —first getting a blocked shot on an Eagle attempt after a Falcon turnover.

His basket at the two-minute mark made it 81-72 — as he then corralled a defensive board, stole an inbounds pass, and split a second time in the fourth quarter two free throws for another 10-point (82-72) lead.

Eastern freshman Brewer Tomlison, standing six-foot and three-inches tall, got the better of Shoemaker in the first half —outscoring him 8-4, and with two of Shoemaker’s points being first-quarter freebies.

But Shoemaker scored a dozen of his 16 points in the second 16 minutes—including eight alone in the third, as his banked-in trifecta made it 64-52 with 37 tics to play.

“You don’t get to see two big guys go at it like that too often. In the first half, Brewer Tomlison just played great. Then we challenged Jack (Shoemaker) at halftime, and the second half Jack just played great,” said the elder Shoemaker.

The Falcons held a 34-29 advantage in total field goals, but did leave the door ajar for the Eagles at the line —converting only nine of 20.

Eastern was 9-of-12, as Neil Leist landed 3-of-5 —along with eight total field goals for a team-high 21 points.

Tomlison, on seven field goals, and Jace White, with six field goals and 2-of-2 second-quarter free throws, tossed in 14 points apiece — with White making three baskets amid that furious fourth-quarter comeback bid.

Tucker Leist landed three threes and netted nine points, Dylan Morton mustered three buckets towards eight points, and T.J. Richards scored two twos towards six —as Morton in the third quarter and Richards in the last made 2-of-2 free throws each.

Coach Shoemaker said the Huntington loss, combined with a “great week of practice” prior to New Year’s Day, did wonders in preparation for the upstart Eagles.

“We knew we were going to get a heckuva shot from them (Eastern), but coming off that loss to Huntington, it really got our focus back,” he said. “It really pushed us into having a great game tonight.”

And, avoiding the upset at the Eagles’ Nest —of which Wheelersburg and Valley did not.

“If we’re going to win the league, we have to win road games like these,” said Shoemaker. “And you have to be ready to play every night.”

* * *

Minford 24 23 17 20 —84

Eastern 17 15 22 18 — 72

MINFORD 84 (7-1, 6-0 SOC II)

Bennett Kayser 8 0-1 16, Adam Crank 5 1-2 13, Myles Montgomery 10 3-9 25, Jeffrey Pica 0 0-0 0, Bailey White 0 0-0 0, Noah Martin 0 0-0 0, Jackson Shoemaker 5 5-8 16, Joe Hannah 6 0-0 14; TOTALS 34 9-20 84; Three-point field goals: 7 (Adam Crank, Myles Montgomery and Joe Hannah 2 apiece, Jackson Shoemaker 1)

EASTERN 72 (5-5, 2-4 SOC II)

Tucker Leist 3 0-0 9, T.J. Richards 2 2-2 6, Jace White 6 2-2 14, Neil Leist 8 3-5 21, Dylan Morton 3 2-2 8, Brewer Tomlison 7 0-1 14; TOTALS 29 9-12 72; Three-point field goals: 5 (Tucker Leist 3, Neil Leist 2)

Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2023 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved

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