Crestview clips Columbiana, crawls back in TCL
The Clippers erased a 13-point deficit, but came up short in a 45-43 loss.
By BRIAN RICHESSON
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
COLUMBIANA -- Jason Beachler cradled the trophy in his left arm, delicately as if it were a baby.
Moments earlier, he played like a man.
Beachler's free throw with 39 seconds remaining broke a tie and helped the Crestview High basketball team to a 45-43 victory in a Tri-County League game Friday at Columbiana High.
"This is huge for us," said Beachler, a senior who scored 15 points for the Rebels.
"Living this close to Columbiana, it's been a huge rivalry. We've been playing each other since seventh grade, and it means a lot to the team."
The trophy was Crestview's reward for beating Columbiana, but the Rebels nearly gave it away.
"We could have won that game," Columbiana coach Jeff Hammond said.
The Clippers stormed back from a 13-point deficit by scoring 15 straight points and taking a 35-33 lead with just under five minutes remaining in the game.
That's when it got fun.
Columbiana's student section, silenced for much of the game, awoke from a winter slumber with rhythmic chants of "Clippers," while senior Austen Couchenour (13 points) and senior David Cramer (12) took it upon themselves to lead their team back.
The duo combined for 16 of Columbiana's 18 points in the fourth quarter, as the Clippers took advantage of 29 Crestview turnovers.
"It was our defense turning into some of our offense," Hammond said.
Still, it wasn't enough.
Couchenour missed a layup following a steal with 25 seconds remaining -- with the Clippers trailing 41-40 -- and junior Eric Ostrander's 3-pointer from the top, which would have tied the game at 43, missed with seven seconds left.
"There were a lot of little things, which added up, that didn't go our way tonight," said Hammond, citing free-throw shooting (5-of-12) and rebounding.
Beachler added two more free throws to make it 45-40 with 3.2 seconds remaining before Couchenour's 3-pointer at the buzzer.
"I just didn't want to let my team down," Beachler said of his clutch free throws. "Free throws throughout the course of a game make a big difference. I owed it to my team."
Crestview (8-3, 3-3) crawled back to .500 in the TCL as it preps for a second-half run.
"This should give us a boost mentally, especially with it coming on the road," Crestview coach Rick Gates said. "It's always an intense game like this. Throw records out and just go after it."
The Rebels' three captains came up big. In addition to Beachler's play, senior Ross Mercer scored 11 points for Crestview and senior Nick Hoff added two clutch free throws late.
"At key times, they did what they had to do," Gates said.
A win would have been just as important to Columbiana (8-4, 4-2), which went into Friday trailing TCL leader Sebring by one game. A win would have helped to set up Tuesday's showdown between the teams.
Now, the Clippers are forced to recover quickly before facing the state-ranked Trojans.