As has been the case most of the season for Lynchburg-Clay, the Mustangs made critical plays when they needed them Saturday night.
With the game tied at 46 entering the fourth quarter, Lynchburg-Clay scored the first nine points of the fourth and held on for a 63-55 win over Blanchester.
Winners of seven of their last eight games, the Mustangs improved to 12-7. Blanchester fell to 7-12.
“It seems like all year when we’ve needed big plays, our guys make them,” LCHS head coach Matt Carson said. “We made some plays defensively, forced them into some quick shots, the got some run-outs.”
Lynchburg-Clay used Blanchester misses early in the fourth to get its high-tempo breakout going. Rebounds by Eric McLaughlin led to long passes to Austin Hilt.
Hilt scored the first six points of the fourth thanks to those breakouts. A Damin Pierson three gave the Mustangs a 55-46 lead with 5:10 remaining.
“We didn’t get run-outs all night, but we got some key run-outs,” Carson said.
Blanchester made just three field goals in the fourth and got no closer than seven the rest of the way.
Pierson led the Mustangs with 15 points. McLaughlin, who sat the final 5:54 of the first half with three fouls, ended up with 14 points. The Mustangs were a plus-23 with McLaughlin on the floor.
“We’ve asked a lot of (McLaughlin) all year,” Carson said. “Anytime we needed a huge rebound, he got it. He played well with three fouls in the second half.”
Not that Blanchester head coach Adam Weber has a vote, but if he could pick a player of the year in the OHSAA Southeast District, the choice would be easy.
“When you’ve got a kid like Eric McLaughlin, who in my opinion is the Southeast District player of the year, we knew we had our hands full,” Weber said. “He played well. Pierson played well. Overall, not upset with our effort at all.”
Brayden Sipple led Blanchester with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Whistled for two quick fouls late in the third, Sipple missed about three minutes on the bench with four fouls. He played the final 6:31 with four fouls, and had just two shot attempts in the final period.
“He’s a very good basketball player,” Carson said of Sipple. “We paid a lot of attention to him. For being a freshman, he’s extremely good, and he’s only going to get better.”
The Wildcats got a strong performance from Hunter Bare, who finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Bare scored 12 of those 14 points in the second half.
“We had some guys step up and play phenomenally,” Weber said. “Hunter is physical. He is exceptionally gifted. He still has some things to learn as far as defensive scheme, but as far as raw, physical ability, he’s a force. Being a sophomore, that’s huge.
“He came out against a tall task and held his ground, no problem.”
It’s been a strong stretch of basketball for the Mustangs, who were coming off of a dismantling of Fayetteville on Friday. The key to this late-season surge is simple, Carson said.
“Kids are having fun,” Carson said. “We’re coming into our stride. They just enjoy coming to practice every day. They’re gutsy, and they play their hearts out for each other. I’m proud every single day that I get a chance to coach them.”
(63) LYNCHBURG-CLAY (fg-3fg-ft-tp) Noble Walker 4-1-0-9, Damin Pierson 6-3-0-15, Chris Young 2-1-0-5, Eric McLaughlin 5-3-1-14, Austin Hilt 4-0-3-11, Ray Conner 2-0-0-4, Blake Croy 2-0-1-5. TOTALS 25-8-5-63.
(55) BLANCHESTER (fg-3fg-ft-tp) Nevan Coyle 1-1-0-3, Brayden Sipple 6-1-3-16, Jacksson Waialae 2-2-0-6, Jordan Stroud 5-0-3-13, Noah Armocida 1-1-0-3, Hunter Bare 7-0-0-14. TOTALS 22-5-6-55.
FIELD GOALS: L 25/66 (Pierson 6/15, McLaughlin 5/17, Hilt 4/7, Walker 4/9); B 22/57 (Bare 7/10, Sipple 6/14, Stroud 5/14)
3 POINT FIELD GOALS: L 8/19 (Pierson 3/7, McLaughlin 3/4); B 5/15 (Waialae 2/6)
FREE THROWS: L 5/9 (Hilt 3/4); B 6/14 (Sipple 3/3, Stroud 3/4)
TURNOVERS: L 11; B 14
Matt Sexton is a stringer for the Wilmington News Journal.