Clippers captured their third in a row with 62-49 win over Crestview.
COLUMBIANA -- The four seniors, surrounded by their teammates, did it again Friday night.
They smiled for the camera. They posed with the Tri-County League trophy. They smiled and laughed with friends and family, lingering for a long time at center court, only pausing to sip from drink bottles.
For the third consecutive year, the Clippers (16-3, 12-1 TCL) are champions. They clinched the crown with a 62-49 victory over Crestview. Through it all, the four seniors -- Whitney Goist, Cara Hardenbrook, Lisa Simon and Stacie Cross -- led the way.
All four have played on the varsity team for four years. All went through a 6-15 season as freshmen. Now they are three-time champions, their second title under coach Wayne Johnson.
"It's always good to get a championship," said Goist, who finished with 13 points, tied for the team lead with Cross.
Hardenbrook scored 12 points and Simon added eight. In all, the seniors accounted for 74 percent of Columbiana's scoring.
Move to prime time
Columbiana has embraced the Clippers this season. Friday's game was moved to prime time as the boys basketball game switched to the 6 p.m. slot. Columbiana High School also honored recent inductees to its athletic hall of fame, and it was standing-room only in the gymnasium once the girls game started.
Banners honoring the four seniors covered much of one wall -- "Sink 'em Stacie," "Wow 'em Whit," "Slammin' Simon" and "Crushin' Cara" -- as Columbiana maintained its winning ways. The Clippers have lost just once in the last 39 days.
Columbiana also won against an inspired Crestview team. The Rebels (11-8, 9-4) entered the game with a three-game winning streak. Crestview lost to Columbiana 50-35 in late December, the Rebels' lowest offensive output of the season by far.
Friday, Columbiana opened a 17-point lead midway into the second quarter and led 35-21 by halftime.
"Good defense, that's what really did it for us," Johnson said.
Crestview made several second-half runs at Columbiana's lead. Crestview opened the fourth quarter with a surge, and when Brianne Phillis scored on a 3-pointer with 3:20 play, the Rebels had cut Columbiana's edge to seven, 51-44.
The Clippers erased the momentum in the next 60 seconds as Jackie Hatherill stole the ball, set up the offense, then grabbed an offensive rebound and drew a foul.
Hatherill made one free throw, then Simon and Goist both scored. By the 2:27 mark, Columbiana had a 56-44 lead and a loud crowd. Two minutes later, Johnson pulled his seniors to more cheers.
Goist noted afterward that for all of the success the seniors have enjoyed the last three years, the Clippers have not made it out of sectional action in the postseason.
"Oh, yeah, that's one of our goals this year," she said.