By Tim Gebhardt at 329-7135 or email@example.com
OBERLIN — You simply cannot find a tighter league race heading into the last two weeks of the regular season than the one you’ll find in the Lorain County Conference.
Of the eight teams in the LC8, five could either win or share the title. Oberlin (14-5, 8-4) put a huge wrench into Keystone’s championship run by beating the Wildcats on their own floor Tuesday night, 74-58, to climb within a game of Keystone (10-10, 9-3) and Columbia (13-6, 9-3) with two games left on the schedule. Oberlin, Firelands and Clearview are all in the mix.
“It was a big game,” said 5-foot-10 senior guard Giles Harrell, who led the Phoenix with 25 points. “We really were (looking forward to it). (Keystone) came to our house and beat us by 20 (68-46), so we were planning on getting them back.”
They sure did. Oberlin withstood a furious Keystone rally that saw the Wildcats come back from a 37-16 deficit to lead 41-39 in the third quarter. The Phoenix nudged the lead back to 10 at the end of the quarter and kept the game secured from that point.
“We knew it was a must-win game,” said Trajen Chambers, who is the son of former Oberlin star and current junior varsity coach Howard Chambers. “We saw what they were saying in the papers and we knew we had to bounce back and do what they did to us.”
“We told the kids mathematically if we had lost, we were out of the conference race,” Oberlin coach Kurt Russell said. “They really wanted to win to keep us alive.”
Harrell hit five 3-pointers in the game and Aaron Hopkins hit three. Oberlin was 10-of-16 from beyond the arc.
“We felt a little bit of pressure but it wasn’t too much,” Hopkins said. “We knew if we wanted to handle that game, we had to lock down on ‘D’ and convert it over to our offense.”
“We had to bring our energy from practices to the game from the past week,” said point guard Andre Yarber, who is the team’s assist and steals leader. “When Aaron hit four threes in a row, we just knew it was our game.”
The Phoenix has been quietly in contention all year and Tuesday’s exclamation point may have been the highlight of its season. Oberlin wraps up the conference schedule at Brookside tonight and hosts Clearview (10-8, 8-4) next week to wrap up the conference schedule.
Columbia and Keystone both have tough finishes. The Raiders host Firelands (12-6, 8-4) on Friday while Keystone is at Clearview before the two face off in what could decide the conference title.
For Oberlin, three players average in double figures and three others are capable. Harrell is the leading scorer but Chambers and Hopkins are right there with him. James Davis, Ty Locklear and Yarber are key ingredients as well. Oberlin merely has to take care of its business and hope to either tie or win the league title.
“Teams have to be resilient,” Russell said. “Teams cannot panic. That’s what the kids did a great job of, not panicking and running our offense. Any team is going to make a run at you. Keystone’s a good team, a good program. We withstood that. I thought we did a great job.”
It’s anybody’s to win — or lose — at this point but the Phoenix figure they’re in the thick of it.
“One game back,” Harrell said. “We’ve got to hope somebody helps us out and we win out.”
“We just have to handle what’s on our schedule and not worry about what anybody else is doing,” Chambers said.