The resilient Tigers, who once were 2-12, will face Liberty in the district final.
By BILL SULLIVAN
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
BOARDMAN -- The Howland High boys basketball team's improbable turnaround continued Thursday at Boardman High School.
The Tigers, who many forgot about in January after a 12-game losing streak dropped them to 2-12, defeated Hubbard, 56-52, in a Division II district semifinal.
Howland (8-14) will try to cap its resurgence Saturday at 7 p.m. when the Tigers meet Liberty for the district title. Liberty began the Howland losing streak in early December.
Tigers coach Bernard Bolha said his team never despaired while it was mired in the depths of the losing skein.
"Little by little we were seeing progress," Bolha said. "Even though we were losing we were competing."
Thursday night, the Tigers never trailed. They took a 6-0 lead on a pair of 3-pointers by Cody Chappell and built an 11-point lead (17-6) on Ryan Johnson's second-quarter jumper.
Johnson, who scored a career-high 18 points, also thought the Tigers never gave up on the season despite the many setbacks.
"I knew it was coming all year," said Johnson. "I knew we were going to get together at the end of the season. We just had to work together and practice."
With 5:12 remaining in the fourth quarter, Johnson scored from inside on a fine lob by Jeff Proctor over Hubbard's Jacoby Morris to make it 45-35.
Even though Howland went in front by 12 points (47-35) on Johnson's layup with four minutes to play, Hubbard refused to fade.
The Eagles put together a 15-5 spurt, highlighted by three 3-pointers by Jeff Jablonski, to pull within a basket, 52-50, with 55 seconds remaining.
Sealed win at line
The Tigers sealed the win at the foul line, where they were 8-for-10 during the game and 6-for-7 over the last eight minutes.
The defensive play of Proctor on Morris was most noteworthy.
"He took him out of the game," Bolha said of Proctor's work on the 6-foot-4 Morris.
"He bodied him up. He kept his hands free so the refs wouldn't see any kind of pushing. That was awesome."
Morris had seven baskets, including a slam dunk on an offensive rebound, finishing with 14 points and nine rebounds.
"Proctor said he wanted to shut down Jacoby," Bolha said. "That was his goal. He didn't care about scoring, he just wanted to shut him down defensively."
Proctor, a 6-5 senior, said Morris is "pretty tough -- a big kid. He can jump.
"I had to front him. I didn't like getting caught behind him because I'm not that quick on my feet but I tried to stay in front of him because I knew he [Johnson] had my back for the lob."
Neil Claggett scored 13 points, Chappell had 12 points and seven rebounds and Johnson had 10 rebounds.
Of Johnson, a 5-11 junior, Bolha said, "He's no where near the size of a Jacoby Morris but he sure does play that big; tonight he played 6-5."
Jablonski scored 15 points and Matt Yanik had 13 for the Eagles (12-10).