BEAVER — Inside an Eagles’ Nest where Wheelersburg and Valley both found themselves upstaged, and even for Southern Ohio Conference Division II outright champion Minford it wasn’t always easy, but South Webster’s Jeeps just managed to escape.
As Eastern’s Eagles indeed are a different bird at home, the visiting Jeeps joined Minford as the only two clubs to win there this season —as South Webster erased a 16-point first-half deficit on Tuesday night, and captured a key for it 73-69 SOC II triumph.
That’s right, the Eagles’ only losses at home —with Northwest’s Mohawks invading on Friday night for their regular-season finale —are by only nine points (84-72) against the league champion Falcons, and now by only four points against one of the top Division IV programs in all of the Southeast District.
But for South Webster, which before Tuesday night last played and lost to visiting Northwest in the final 10 seconds, it was a win it needed —for momentum’s sake headed into the final stretch of SOC II tilts.
The Jeeps jumped to 14-5 and 8-5 in the SOC II, while the Eagles are now 10-11 —and 5-10 in their fourth full year in the larger-school division.
“To Eastern’s credit, they are a great team at home that can score in bunches. It seemed like (Neil) Leist didn’t miss a shot, and it felt every bit of the 32 points he had. They are a tough team that we may well see down the road (Division IV Southeast District tournament). They shoot well, they play well and are well-coached. It seemed like every time they needed a big three, they got it. When they needed a big putback, they got it. But when we needed to answer, we came down and found a way to score,” said SWHS coach Brenton Cole. “It was a great back-and-forth battle of kids playing good offense and trying to get defensive stops, especially late.”
The Jeeps, for their efforts, overcome a pair of deficits of at least eight points —including the opening eight in the game’s first two minutes, with the next nine over the next minute and 48 seconds.
Indeed in a game of runs, Eastern senior Neil Leist —en route to what is believed to be a career-high 32 points on Senior Night no less —landed his first of six three-pointers, jump-starting an 11-2 run over the final 3:12 of the first quarter.
But the Jeeps’ ability to totally whitewash a 32-16 deficit in the final four minutes and 38 seconds of the second canto was the most impressive spurt of the night —as South Webster went on a 17-0 run to end the half.
Leist and Tyler Sommer exchanged three-pointers coming out of halftime for the fourth and fifth and final lead changes, as after outscoring the Eagles 22-13 in the second stanza, the Jeeps did one better in the third frame —outpointing Eastern by 10 points in the period.
They erupted for 26 counters, extended their 33-32 halftime edge to 59-48 following three quarters, and staked their largest advantage at 13 points only 30 seconds into the fourth on a Sommer rebound putback.
But the Eagles outscored the Jeeps 21-14 in the fourth, and the game still hung in the balance in the final minute —as Eastern whittled Webster’s lead down to 69-65 with 61 seconds remaining.
The Jeeps did score five fourth-quarter field goals, including three by six-foot and seven-inch sophomore standout Eli Roberts —as his basket with 30 seconds left followed a split-second, and nerve-wracking, exchange of steals in which Eastern first stole the ball, but then the Jeeps stole it back.
In the final 26 seconds, Leist split a pair of free throws followed by a buzzer-beating top-of-the-key three-pointer —sandwiched around the 6-3 Sommer meshing a pair for a 73-66 lead.
In previous comeback wins, or even also in losses, the Jeeps have done their damage in the second half —as opposed to Tuesday night’s second quarter.
Cole said starting faster, and earlier, indeed is imperative.
“The guys we had in there then really got after it, defensively especially with a 17-0 run. It starts for us on the defensive end. But we have to stop spotting teams points,” said the coach. “We have to find out what that switch is, and hit it right off the bat instead of later on.”
The defense did pitch a shutout over the final four-and-a-half minutes, and 6-3 senior Will Collins collected 11 of his tied for team-high 20 points over that same span.
Jaren Lower landed a corner three-pointer for a 22-16 deficit a minute and three seconds into the second, then Collins with his point-blank baskets — and two by Sommer and one by Owen Mault —made for a furious charge.
“We knew they were going to make a run because they have a good team,” said Eastern coach Ethan Leist. “They showed us what they have. We respect how good they are. We shot the ball really well out of the gate, but unfortunately, we’re only six or seven deep. We played with a lot of energy early, but when you struggle with depth, it’s tough to sustain that, especially against a good team that is deep.”
Collins (five twos and 4-of-4 free throws) and Roberts (six twos and 2-of-3 third-quarter FT) registered 20 points apiece for the Jeeps, and Sommer (four twos and 3-of-3 foul shots) splashed with 17 —as all three, standing 6-3 or taller, made two trifectas.
Collins also had to guard Eastern’s big man Brewer Tomlison —a 6-3 freshman.
Tomlison picked up three first-half fouls, and fouled out with three minutes and change.
“Will (Collins) picked it up, especially having to guard Tomlison down low. Will was on him, boxing him out, and getting boards,” said Cole. “Our guys kept taking it to the rim after getting lazy and settling for too many threes for my taste in the first quarter. We settled in, started moving the ball, and got our offense clicking by attacking the paint, attacking the rim, and allowing for inside-out threes. Then those start falling, and we’re a different machine.”
Mault made a first-quarter bucket and 2-of-4 third-frame free throws towards six points, Connor Bender bagged two third-quarter field goals and a split of first-quarter foul shots, and Dylan Shupert tossed in 2-of-2 second-stanza freebies —as South Webster was 14-of-18 at the line compared to just 4-of-5 for Eastern.
Both teams totaled 19 twos, as the Eagles’ advantage outside the arc was a slim 9-7.
They have Leist to thank for that, who netted four of his half-dozen treys in the fourth —as he had five of his six twos in the first.
“Neil of course has been our guy,” said Coach Leist. “He is our offensive leader and also our vocal leader. Pretty special Senior Night for him to play the way he did.”
Leist’s 2-of-3 and Dylan Morton’s 2-of-2 accounted for all five Eastern free throws.
Jace White with five field goals through three quarters added 11 points, while Morton made two field goals in quarters two and three towards 10.
Tucker Leist hit two first-half threes, as Eastern was on the upswing for two-and-a-half quarters in its own nest.
“Overall, I was happy with our guys’ effort. We can definitely build off this performance,” said Coach Leist. “We’ve had a lot of success at home, but of course being at home you shoot the basketball better. We’re just trying to rebuild the culture here, and it’s a point of emphasis to protect our home floor.”
The Eagles’ Nest has doubled as a Bermuda Triangle for squads, but the Jeeps went in —and came back out —unscathed.
South Webster will host Oak Hill for its Senior Night on Friday night, followed by SOC II makeup matchups next week — at Minford (Tuesday, Feb. 14) and at Northwest (Friday, Feb. 17).
“This is a big win for us here,” said Cole. “People talk about how tough it is to play here, but it’s because of the team you’re playing. They move the ball well, they have scorers, they have three guys you have to find who can shoot, they have a big underneath in Tomlison who can score, they play good defense. It’s a dogfight.”
* * *
South Webster 11 22 26 14 —73
Eastern 19 13 16 21—69
SOUTH WEBSTER 73 (14-5, 8-5 SOC II)
Connor Bender 2 1-2 5, Christian White 0 0-0 0, Dylan Shupert 0 2-2 2, Owen Mault 2 2-4 6, Jaren Lower 1 0-0 3, Tyler Sommer 6 3-3 17, Eli Roberts 8 2-3 20, Will Collins 7 4-4 20; TOTALS 26 14-18 73; Three-point field goals: 7 (Tyler Sommer, Eli Roberts and Will Collins 2 apiece, Jaren Lower 1)
EASTERN 69 (10-11, 5-10 SOC II)
Tucker Leist 2 0-0 6, Teagan Werner 1 0-0 2, T.J. Richards 1 0-0 2, Jace White 5 0-0 11, Neil Leist 12 2-3 32, Dylan Morton 4 2-2 10, Brewer Tomlison 3 0-0 6; TOTALS 28 4-5 69; Three-point field goals: 9 (Neil Leist 6, Tucker Leist 2, Jace White 1)
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