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OVAC Boys Basketball: Meadowbrook, East Liverpool to tangle in 4A

• Colts seeking fifth straight conference title; Potters after their first since ’99

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — To say East Liverpool and Meadowbrook are both hungry for a championship wouldn’t be exaggerating it.

And the reasons go far beyond the simple fact of accomplishing a goal of winning the OVAC Championship that so many teams set for themselves in November.

East Liverpool hasn’t won an OVAC title since 1999 and came up short to St. Clairsville in its only other appearance in the championship game.

“To be back in this game is awesome for our kids,” East Liverpool head coach Nate Conley said. “Not a lot of motivation or pep talks will be needed (this) morning when you’re playing for an OVAC title.”

On top of the title drought, East Liverpool has some “unfinished business” with Meadowbrook. En route to claiming the conference title last season, Meadowbrook dispatched the Potters in the semifinals and defeated them earlier this season.

Meadowbrook’s motivation stems from the opportunity to win its fifth consecutive conference title. The only other school with a streak that long in the tournament era is Wheeling Central, which is playing later today in the 2A game, riding a seven-year winning streak.

“We’ve looked at the opportunity to ‘five-peat’ as a challenge all season,” fourth-year Meadowbrook head coach Lou “Scooter” Tolzda said. “Getting to this game and hopefully winning it has been something we’ve been working toward all season.”

On top of the Colts’ title streak, this marks the final chance for them to win a title because Meadowbrook is departing the OVAC at the end of the school year to join the Muskingum Valley League.

“I’m an OVAC guy, so being able to take part in this has some real sentimental value to me,” Tolzda said. “I grew up in the OVAC and I am going to miss this event and the people involved with it.”

Add it all up and it should be quite the morning showdown at Ohio University Eastern’s Health and Physical Education Center.

The Potters and Colts will begin the day-long event at 10 a.m. in the 4A game of the Wheeling Hospital OVAC Boys Basketball Championships.

Neither team is obviously accustomed to playing so early in the day, which has led to some additional preparation work for their respective coaches.

“We’re planning 90 minutes for the bus trip, so it’s a matter of when do you eat? When do you get the kids up? When do you shoot around? We’ve spent time talking about that this week. It’s just an uncommon start time for a boys basketball game, but we’ll make the most of it,” Conley said.

On the other side, the Colts don’t have quite as far to come since it’s just a 45-minute or so ride from their gym in Byesville to the St. Clairsville campus.

“It’s a different animal than what we’re used to for sure,” Tolzda said. “Along with preparing for East Liverpool, we have to prepare for that difference, too. But, both teams have to play at that time, so we’ll get the kids going in the morning and do the best we can with it.”

Once the ball goes up, regardless of the start time, it’s going to be a basketball game and boil down to who hits shots and who gets stops.

The teams have familiarity with one another beyond their previous meeting in the conference tournament. They actually played each other on Dec. 21, on the same OUE court, as part of the annual Buckeye 8 Challenge. The Colts pulled away in the second half for a 53-37 victory.

“One of my biggest fears is the fact that we beat them by 16 already,” Tolzda admitted. “They’re athletic and very talented. We know them and they know us. I have the utmost respect for the job that Nate does. He’s a graduate of East Liverpool and his teams are always well coached. It’s going to be a good battle and should be a good game to start the day.”

Conley isn’t going to let the fact that his team already lost to Meadowbrook fester, but he does take one major thing from the game.

“We have to figure out how to score the ball better than we did,” Conley said. “I know that game in December feels like seasons ago, but Scooter’s teams always have a way to control the tempo and make you play uncomfortable. They just don’t give up a lot of points.”

Before either team could shift its focus to the rematch, it had business in Tuesday’s semifinal to tend to. Meadowbrook, which is 16-3 on the season, easily took care of Harrison Central (70-43). East Liverpool, meanwhile, cruised past Martins Ferry, 80-41, in the other semifinal.

“We got out in transition early and, honestly, we played about as well as we could play in the first half (against Martins Ferry),” Conley said.

The Colts, who are the top seed in the upcoming Division II Eastern District, have played a challenging schedule. Two of its three losses came to Wheeling Park. They also posted wins — on back-to-back nights — over Dover and New Philadelphia late last month.

“We have some big-game experience,” Tolzda said. “Our schedule is solid and it makes us better. We were 2-2 at a juncture and the only game we’ve lost since that point was to Park, at our place.”

When Conley begins breaking down the Colts, he looks at senior Johnathan McCall, who averages 15.3 points a game.

He’s backed, in the scoring column by Davis Singleton, who checks in at 111 points and then Jake Singleton at 10.9 a night. However, Conley also has concerns with Colts post presence Addy Black, who averages 8.8 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.9 blocks a contest.

“Addy Black can really make an impact on both ends of the floor with his size,” Conley said. “He blocks a lot of shots, but he changes a lot more shots. They’re a tough matchup because of how many spot-up shooters they have. They’re the number one seed in the district for a reason.”

Zach Rusnak, Jerome Todd and Boston Black are also contributors.

On the other side, the Potters are led by Tresean Jackson, who is scoring 23 points a game and has eclipsed the 1,200-point barrier for his career.

“It all starts with Jackson and we have a ton of respect for him,” Tolzda said. “He’s a great player, who is really the true heartbeat of their team. He’s not alone though. He has a lot of good players around him.”

In the Potters’ four losses, Jackson has battled foul trouble, which is something that Conley knows he must avoid this morning.

Along with Jackson, senior Brennan O’Hara has been a solid contributor for Liverpool at 13.5 points and five rebounds per contest.

Timmy Neal is the third member of the Potters’ double-figure scoring collection at 10.5 points a night. Senior Gannon Irvine and sophomore Zavea Green round out the starting lineup.

Nick Woodyard, who is headed to Fairmont State to play football, is the sixth man at 7 points a night. Levi George also sees quality minutes off the bench.

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