By RICH KELLY
For the Star Beacon
It’s been a long season for the Conneaut Spartans boys basketball team. Strong finishes have not been the norm if win-loss records are the main indicator of success.
But, Tuesday night against the visiting Youngstown Christian Eagles, a team which reached the Elite 8 in their division last season but was hit hard by graduations, the Spartans broke from a first half deficit with a 10-0 run late in the second quarter which gave them a lead which they gradually expanded to claim a 65-51 non-conference win.
YC got off to a 9-2 lead in the game’s first 4 plus minutes, but Conneaut cut the deficit to 13-11 after a quarter of action. Ten turnovers scuttled much of what the Spartans tried to do.
Down 20-13 with 3:38 to go before halftime, Ryan Oatman took a pass from Richie Burr to ignite that big run. A pair of Justin Franklin free throws capped it with 1:08 to go.
Then Conneaut (2-11) opened the third period with a 10-3 spurt, and another run in the fourth period, sparked by Jacob Spees and Oatman again, opened a 60-38 lead.
After a night of futility getting the ball into the hoop, the Eagles (5-11) finally got hot late in the game, but it wasn’t enough.
“Certainly, an athletic team like Youngstown Christian is going to press a lot,” Conneaut coach Tim Tallbacka said. “We knew that, but we were fortunate to win a war of attrition in the first half. In the second half we did a much better job passing the ball. We got 16 points in the last quarter from our bigs, Spees and Oatman. When that happens it’s huge. To me, the big thing also was our rebounding.
“They attack so much, the guards need to rebound, and Richie Burr and Mike Teed did a great job off the bench, and Kyle Sprinkle played a heck of a game handling the ball for us. You know (Darien) Townsend is a great player, so you try to hinder his progress. Our guards did a great job all night.”
An 8-12 effort from the floor for Conneaut sparked the offense in the fourth period when it blew the game open.
Spees was solid at both ends, netting 19 points and grabbing 12 rebounds to go with 4 assists. Oatman added 14 points, and Justin Myers, shut out in the first half, keyed the third period run with 3-straight treys to finish with 11 points.
Townsend led YC with 19 points and 5 assists, and Ryan Houston tallied 18 points.
Both teams were cold from the floor until Conneaut got hot in the fourth, and with 14 assists in the second half, the Spartans displayed the type of team chemistry Tallbacka wanted to see.
“We missed 7 layups in the first period and 5 more in the second,” YC coach Dolph Carroll said. “We couldn’t throw the ball in from the ocean tonight. We got good looks, but at the same time, you must credit Conneaut for playing some tight, aggressive defense. We were hoping our defense would create some offense for us because we want to run and use our athleticism. We had good rotations, too, but we just didn’t shoot well.”
Kelly is a freelance writer from Jefferson.