By Doug Chapin
NEWTON FALLS — The rivalry between LaBrae High and Newton Falls doesn’t need anything extra to make it more intense.
But there was added energy in the Tigers’ gym on Friday thanks to a controversial come-from-behind victory by LaBrae last month and the Vikings’ victory last season in the Division III district championship game.
Playing in the final home game of their careers, Newton Falls’ three seniors — Brian Sole, Stephen Page and C.J. Peaco — came up big in leading the Tigers to a 52-47 victory over their arch-rivals.
“This group of seniors, coming in as sophomores, leave this floor with a record of 27-2 in their three years as part of our varsity program,” Newton Falls coach Roy Sembach said. “I thought Brian Sole did a nice job of staying within himself.
“He’s a big-time scorer and they did a lot to take him out of the game,” Sembach said. “Rather than fight that, he passed the ball more and I think he did a great job with that.
“Page was tremendous at the defensive end, 16 rebounds, a monster night,” Sembach said. “He doesn’t force things, he’s capable of scoring 10 to 15 points if we need him to.
“C.J. Peaco’s been a major role player for us all year, he just does what we want him to do and never complains about how much or how little he plays,” Sembach said. “I thought tonight he may have had his best game yet.”
Sole scored just seven points, but added five rebounds and three assists. Page was dominant on the defensive end with 16 rebounds and three blocked shots, along with four assists. Peaco scored 11 points, including five in the final quarter.
Sophomore Cody Dillon scored 13 points and junior Tyler Kernen added nine for Falls (15-3, 6-2 All-American Conference Blue Tier).
LaBrae (12-6, 4-4 got 21 points from sophomore guard Matt Szorady. Junior forward Jacob Jaros added seven points and six rebounds.
“I think we played well enough defensively to win the game,” LaBrae coach Chad Kiser said. “We held them to 52 and between Sole and Dillon we held them to 20. That’s great for us, it was what we were looking to do.
“They came out to play in the first half and we didn’t. We let them jump out on us, they led by 11, and then we came out and outscored them in both the third and fourth quarters,” Kiser said. “When you give that team an 11-point lead, they’re going to be tough to beat.”
Falls led 15-11 after one quarter and increased it to 30-19 at halftime. The lead was still 39-30 after three quarters and was at 43-36 with five minutes left to play.
Jaros and Szorady then nailed back-to-back 3-pointers and the Vikings were within 43-42 at the 4:27 mark.
Peaco scored on a pass from Page at the 4:10 mark, Sole sank two free throws with 2:25 left and Dillon scored on a long pass from Sole with 1:24 remaining to make the score 49-42. A Szorady basket and a Peaco free throw left Falls ahead 50-44 with 43 seconds left to play and the Tigers’ defense finished off the victory.
“If anyone wants to see a great high school basketball game, any year, come and see a LaBrae-Newton Falls basketball game,” Sembach said about the neighborhood rivalry. “They are like this all the time. They’re emotional, they’re exciting, they’re hard-fought, they’re well played. It’s always a shame whoever loses has to lose.”