Bellaire outlasts Harrison
By SETH STASKEY
Times Leader Sports Editor
BELLAIRE — All wins are big. But, some simply seem bigger than others.
For Bellaire, Tuesday night’s 55-53 victory against invading Harrison Central falls into the bigger win category.
Seemingly everything that J.R. Battista has talked about at some point this season all came together. Whether it was making winning plays down the stretch, getting a crucial defensive stop, securing a late rebound or knocking down a pair of foul shots with just 2.8 seconds to play, the Big Reds checked all of the boxes.
“It just went our way … for once,” a relieved J.R. Battista said. “We got loose balls, big free throws, hit a lot of treys, turned turnovers into points. We just made a lot of winning plays and they all added up for us.”
Many of those plays came to fruition in the fourth quarter. Bellaire led by four at halftime, but watched Harrison go on a 9-0 run to open the third and eventually take a four-point lead of its own into the final quarter.
In the fourth, the Huskies led 47-46 when junior Owen Ward, who turned in a game-high 31 points, scored going to the basket. That began what seemed like a game of one-on-one between Ward and Harrison Central senior standout Kobe Mitchell.
The two traded baskets until the game was tied at 53 after a Mitchell goal. Harrison Central forced the Big Reds into a turnover and after running time off attacked the basket, but the shot was too strong.
The rebounded landed in the hands of Big Reds senior David Zwack, who raced it the other way as the clock turned under seven seconds. Zwack was fouled in the act.
The 80% free throw shooter calmly sank the first. After Harrison Central called a time out, Zwack went back to the line and swished the second.
Harrison Central got the ball to Mitchell, but Bellaire’s defense forced him into a turnover to seal the verdict.
“This (outcome) is not a surprise,” Harrison Central head coach Justin Clifford said. “When you give the kind of effort we gave (Tuesday), you’re not going to beat many teams. Bellaire wanted it more than us and that’s why they won.”
While all of the plays certainly added up, the defensive effort the Big Reds put forth on Mitchell was the difference. The University of Akron signee came into the game fresh off a season-high, 42-point outburst against John Glenn and averaging 33.4 points a game for the season.
Mitchell was limited to 20 points and hit nary a 3-pointer against the Big Reds.
“”I’m not trying to exaggerate this, but (Harrison has) a really good player (Kobe Mitchell) and he makes things so much more difficult (defensively) because he demands so much extra attention,” Battista said.
Ward’s performance was huge for the Big Reds, especially when you consider that the Big Reds leading scorers for the season — Zwack and Jaren Cash — combined for one field goal and eight total points.
“I thought we controlled the tempo, which was big because you can’t give those a bunch of extra possessions,” Battista said. “We had other guys step up and make shots and like (former Shadyside and Bishop Donahue head coach) John Stanko once said, ‘when the ball goes in the basket, everything is beautiful.'”
Ward’s scoring was backed by Jake Dowling’s nine points.
The Huskies received 10 points from Hayden Cassidy and nine points from junior Jonathan Vermillion to complement Mitchell.
“You can’t be a good team when you can’t do the basic fundamentals,” Clifford lamented. “I thought we came out in the second half with a little bit of fire and we (took the lead), but we don’t have that killer mentality, so they got back in the game, made some shots and won.”
Both teams are back in action on Friday. The Huskies (5-3) welcome Martins Ferry, while the Big Reds (4-5) visit Buckeye Local.