Clippers rally, top Springfield
By TOM WILLIAMS
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
NEW MIDDLETOWN -- During Tuesday's fast-and-furious fourth quarter, Columbiana High coach Herman Miller and Springfield's Grant Spaite knew composure would determine the outcome.
Despite trailing by seven points in the final quarter, the Clippers showed their poise -- especially at the foul line -- and rallied for a 70-68 victory in the Tigers' gymnasium that has tightened up their league race.
Columbiana's win puts East Palestine (8-2, 6-1) alone atop the Inter Tri-County League Tier One standings. One game behind are the Clippers (8-5, 6-2) and the Tigers (8-4, 6-2).
Friday, the Tigers travel to East Palestine seeking a season sweep of the Bulldogs, whose only league loss was to Springfield (80-65).
"Obviously, we're disappointed," said Spaite after the Tigers were outscored 25-20 in the fourth quarter. "To their credit, Columbiana came in here and played a whale of a game.
"Several times, we were up by six or seven, and we couldn't put them away. They showed a lot of resilience, a lot of character," Spaite said.
"We didn't do a real good job of handling their pressure at the end -- we didn't keep our composure."
Miller credited the comeback to a team effort, but junior Joe Blinsky was the Clipper the Tigers won't forget anytime soon after he scored 14 points in the final quarter. Eight came from the free-throw line.
Blinsky, who made 11 of 15 free throws, said he has never taken so many. The experience made him "nervous but at the same time it feels so good after you make it."
Blinsky finished with 22 points, five steals and five rebounds.
"We're real excited," Blinsky said. "We beat them earlier in the year and we wanted to show them that we could do it again."
After trailing 33-27 at halftime, Joe Winters made two baskets and a free throw to open the third quarter for the Clippers.
The Tigers didn't panic, posting a 15-7 run for a 48-39 lead. But back came the Clippers as Josh Weikart, Andrew Tirpak and Tony Giannone scored baskets to shave the lead to three.
With 2:42 to go, two Blinsky free throws tied the game at 59-59. His jump-shot basket 40s seconds later gave the Clippers their first lead since early in the second quarter.
Exchanging plenty of fouls, the Tigers took their final lead, 64-63, on two Bobby Rogers' free throws. Columbiana's Cory Guy responded with a basket and two foul shots. Two more by Blinsky sealed the victory.
"Team-wide contributions in the fourth quarter made the difference," Miller said. "We got some good pressure, key rebounds, key steals -- it wasn't one person."
Miller said last week's loss at United -- a game where the Clippers squandered a nine-point lead with three minutes to go -- taught a hard lesson.
"We were not composed," Miller said. "So we talked this week about coming to play here and what was at stake, what it takes to be poised.
"With [only] eight turnovers against this squad, that's the kind of poise and composure that can show we're a competitive team."
Weikart and Winters each scored 11 points while Tirpak contributed 10.
Nate Schuler led the Tigers with 17 points and eight rebounds. Point guard Dane Dobson contributed 14 points, five rebounds and three assists. Rogers scored 13 points and pulled down eight rebounds.