By Joe Scalzo
Basketball coaches — even those as friendly as Lowellville’s Tony Matisi — are a notoriously paranoid bunch.
So while Matisi can’t compare with, say, Howard Hughes, Bobby Fischer or Seinfeld’s “Crazy” Joe Davola, he had his moments this week, particularly since most fans were focused on Matisi-Moschella Round 3 and not Lowellville’s district semifinal opponent: Crestview.
“That worried me a little bit because of the distraction it caused,” Matisi said. “Everybody is telling you [about that game]. I was deathly afraid of losing focus.”
Even worse? He had a great week of practice.
“With us, that means we’re going to play horrible,” Matisi said, grinning.
They didn’t. Matisi’s three senior starters all scored in double figures and the Rockets rolled past the Rebels, 57-38, in Wednesday’s Division IV game at South Range High School.
They will meet Lisbon in Saturday’s district final. The Blue Devils upset second-seeded Columbiana 52-40 in Wednesday’s opener.
“We may have put four quarters together that we haven’t done all year,” said Matisi, who will try to win his seventh district title in 10 years despite losing three 1,000-point scorers to graduation last year. “They were focused all week.
“I think our seniors carried us tonight.”
Maddie Opritza scored 16 points, Rachel Durbin had 14 points, seven rebounds and four assists and Kaye Solak had 12 points, 10 rebounds and four assists for the Rockets (22-3).
Ashley Harrison scored 15 points and Anna Hardenbrook had 10 for the Rebels (18-7).
In the opener, Pam Pierce scored 15 points and grabbed 13 rebounds to lead Lisbon (15-10), which ran out to a 31-20 halftime lead.
After trailing by as many as 16 in the second half, the Clippers upped their defensive pressure and trimmed their deficit to four, 44-40, with 3:10 left. But they went 0-for-3 with a turnover the rest of the way as Lisbon survived some shaky free-throw shooting to hold on.
“We just kept preaching to them that a lot of people weren’t counting on us [winning],” said Lisbon coach Jason Thompson. “If you read the papers, they were talking about Columbiana being on the verge of districts and even in the tournament draw, they were talking about Lowellville vs. Columbiana.”
Sarah Boyd hit four 3s in the first half and Tiffany Ketchum added 11 points for Lisbon, but it was Pierce, who scored seven points and grabbed five rebounds in the fourth quarter, who sealed the win.
“Pam Pierce is totally their whole heart and soul,” said Matisi, who watched the first game from the bleachers. “The emotion she played with, she wanted it so bad. You could just see it in her face.
“It was a joy to watch her play basketball.”
Khylea Fullum scored 18 points with 10 rebounds for Columbiana (21-4), which dropped two intense games to Lowellville in their first season under former Boardman coach Ron Moschella.