On Saturday, March 12 the Lynchburg-Clay Mustangs (25-2) traveled to the Convocation Center on the campus of Ohio University to compete against Marion Pleasant in the regional finals. Only one other team in the history of Lynchburg-Clay high school has made it to the regional finals and moved on to the Final Four. That was 23 year ago in 1993. That number is now zero as the Mustangs defeated the Marion Pleasant Spartans with a final score of 68-50.
As the Mustangs came out to start the game, one would think that this was just another trip to the regional finals for them. The Mustangs came out ready to go from the tip scoring the first five points with a two to start from Joe Giordano, and a follow up three pointer from Eric McLaughlin. McLaughlin has found a perfect time to get hot in the season being towards the top of scoring and rebounding in most of the games this post season. Eric led the Mustangs with 21 points and collected his second double-double in as many games with 13 rebounds. McLaughlin’s wasn’t the only double-double on the night for the Mustangs as Zach Blankenship scored 12 points and pulled down 10 rebounds.
Marion Pleasant finally got into the scoring column with 5:29 to go in the first quarter and were able to get some offense going. At the end of the first eight minutes, it the Mustangs up 11-9.
The second quarter was a slow one for the Mustangs. The Spartans took the quarter overall outscoring Lynchburg by one point with the help of two three pointers and at halftime, the Mustangs held a very slim, one-point lead with the score at 20-19.
In the game on Saturday night, there were a total of four lead changes. Those four lead changes all came in the first half. That’s because the Mustangs came out and turned it on in the second half outscoring Marion 48-31 led by Pierson with 17 second half points, Giordano with 12 and McLaughlin with 10. The Mustangs scored on each of their first seven possessions of the third quarter, starting the third frame with an 8-0 run with points from Blankenship, Giordano, McLaughlin and Pierson. The Spartans were able to stop the bleeding a little with a score at the 5:56 mark but Blankenship scored another layup on a drive to make it 30-21. On the Spartans next possession, Eric McLaughlin collected an emphatic blocked shot which led to another basket and score by Giordano, Pierson capped off the small middle of the quarter 6-0 run with two free throws and the Mustangs were up 34-21 with 4:49 to play. The Mustangs and Spartans traded baskets over the next two minutes but the Spartans went on their own run to close the quarter scoring nine unanswered points and at the end of three it was the Lynchburg boys up 40-33.
In the final quarter, it was a scoring frenzy by the Mustangs. They racked up 28 points compared to the Spartans 17 and ended the quarter on a 9-0 run. In the final two minutes alone, the Mustangs scored 16 points to Marion’s nine, Marions all coming off of three pointers trying desperately to close the gap between the two teams. But Lynchburg was solid at the free throw line, making 79% of their free shots. The game was capped off when the Mustangs stole the basketball and Morgan Ryan made the final points of the game on a layup with 20 seconds left to bring home a 68-50 victory. As they say, numbers never lie and the Mustangs made sure that their numbers, not just the score, were better than Marion’s. On the game as a whole, the Mustangs shot 69% from the free throw line, 44% from the field, and 30% from long range compared to just 55% from the line, 27% from the field and 24% from three point land for the Spartans.
“The journey to where we are now has been great,” said Head Coach of the Mustangs Matt Carson after the win. “To take a quote from a very wise sage I talked to earlier today, these kids have matured as people, as leaders and as players. You know they’re very humble and gracious winners. They’ve earned this though. It’s not like this magically happened today. They put in all the work in the summer and throughout the season. There were peaks and there were valleys but anytime we hit a low point, we rose above it like tonight. Our bench stepped up when we had a couple of our starters out with four fouls. I’m just extremely proud of all of them.
“I never felt totally comfortable the whole game just because I knew that [Marion] was a well coached basketball team. I did know that the tone was set when we came out and scored on our first seven possessions of the third quarter. I knew after that, that we were fine. I think we were a little tight in the first half and after we got over that and came out in the second half and executed a lot better and got the looks we wanted. Our defense was solid and has been in all six of our tournament games. I think we’re giving up less than a 50 point average and in the tournament, that’s going to get it done most nights. Credit the kids for all the effort. It’s just phenomenal.
“Last year we got put out in the first game of the tournament and I was just searching for something for us before the season started that the kids could kind of latch onto and it be something. Oddly enough, I emailed Western Michigan’s football coach P.J. Fleck who, as a Division I football coach, took the time out of his day to email me back. I read this article about him and it was so motivating that within five minutes of reading it, I wanted to play football for him.We adopted that saying and it’s something that we’ve gradually bought into all year. You’ve got to keep rowing. You might see the destination at the end, there might be tidal waves, and the boat might get holes in it, but you’ve just got to grab your fair share and keep rowing and the kids did that all year and we’ve rowed our way to the final four.”
“This is one game at a time but I knew that we had it in us when we won two physical games with Peebles. You have to play physical and we don’t do that great 100% of the time but we do them great about 93% of the time and when we do that, it puts us in the position we’re in right now.
These last two weeks have really been a blur. From one game to the next, there’s just so many people calling and texting wishing us well and this is just surreal right now. Especially the support we’ve gotten from the people that paved the path for us back in 1993. All of those guys have been supportive of us all year and even had a few of them reach out to me as early as last year and say this group could be special. I saw it and it’s all about getting the kids to believe in it and they’ve really taken ownership in it this year and they weren’t going to settle for anything less than where were going right now.”
The Mustangs are now in the Final Four in Division III and will play on Thursday, March 17 at The Ohio State University Jerome Schottenstein Center at 10:45 a.m. against Cleveland Villa Angela St. Joseph (21-5).
LCHS – 11 9 20 28 – 68
MPHS – 9 10 14 17 – 50
Lynchburg-Clay: McLaughlin 4(2) 7/12 – 21; Pierson 2(1) 10/12 – 17; Giordano 2(2) 4/8 – 14; Blankenship 3 6/7 – 12; Mullins 2/2 – 2; Ryan 1 – 2. Totals: 12(5) 29/32 – 68
Marion Pleasant: J. Craycraft 2(4) 2/4 – 19; Sansota 6 7/12 – 19; H. Craycraft 1(1) – 5; Marvin (1) – 3; Joehlin 1 – 2; Wood 1 0/1 – 2. Totals: 11(8) 10/18 – 50.
Reach Robert Stegbauer at 937-393-3456 ext. 1679 or on Twitter @RStegbauer.