Warriors remain in hunt for share of league championship

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Talen Timberlake watches basketball drop through hoop
Carrollton junior Talen Timberlake watches his own shot drop through the net during second half action Feb. 7 in the CHS gym.

Carrollton handed league-leading West Branch their second loss of the season in Eastern Buckeye Conference (EBC) play Friday in the CHS gym and avenged an earlier season loss to the Warriors who wear green and white.

West Branch sits atop the EBC standings with a 9-2 record with one game remaining. Carrollton and Alliance are one game back at 8-3 and were scheduled to meet this Tuesday in Alliance. West Branch closes out the season Friday at home against Salem. If Carrollton wins and West Branch loses, the two teams will share the league championship

Coach Mike Aukerman’s Warriors started out slow in Friday’s matchup before a large, rowdy crowd in the new high school gym.

Brady Benner put the first two points of the game through the net before the visitors jumped in front 11-3 using a full-court press to force Carrollton turnovers, which they turned into points.

In the final three minutes of the first quarter, Carrollton outscored their rivals 9-4 on a drive inside, turn-around jumper and three-point shot all by senior Adam Chaney and a shot inside the key by Talen Timberlake off a pass by Chaney. Chaney ended the night with 21 points and Timberlake with six.

When the first quarter buzzer rang, the home team trailed by one 13-12.

“We expected them to pressure us but knew it wouldn’t last long once we executed our game plan,” Aukerman said following the game. “We have talented guards and we executed our press break and were getting layups.”

The two teams traded shots the first half of the second quarter. Gage Poole tied the score at 20-20 with 3:48 on the clock as he dribbled in toward the basket, turned around on the right side of the foul line and, amid a host of defenders, put up a shot that swished through the net.

Reese Leone sank two foul shots before senior Jimmy Birong gave the Warriors their first lead of the game, since their opening possession, on a three-point shot from deep in the left corner. 

The tight defensive battle heated up as the two teams exchanged baskets leading to technical fouls on two Carrollton players. Leone sank the first two technical foul shots and was set to throw the ball in bounds. Birong stole the in-bounds pass and laid it in the hoop. Carrollton was called for a second technical foul just before the quarter ended. Leone, who ended the night with 33 points, sank the first shot to bring the visitors to within one, 26-25, at intermission. 

Benner set the tone for the second half when he stole a West Branch pass with only a couple ticks of the clock, raced down the floor and laid the ball in the hoop.

The Warriors used the quick pace of the game to their advantage. Benner scored off an inbounds pass, Andrew Gotschall sank a foul shot and Chaney dished the ball to Birong and then Benner for four quick points to stretch the lead to 37-30 with 1:28 left on the clock.

Birong, who ended the night with nine points, put an exclamation point on the score with a three-point shot that swished through the net just before the buzzer sounded.

Aukerman’s team stretched the lead to 10 points early in the fourth period and held the visitors at bay, allowing them to come no closer than six points down the stretch. 

Carrollton held a 38-24 advantage in rebounds, led by Chaney with 13. Nick Everett led West Branch with seven. 

Leone scored 15 of his points from beyond the 3-pt. arch. Chaney, Benner and Birong each sank one three-point shot. 

“Our confidence was building as the game went on,” Aukerman noted. “We wanted to fight for a chance to win a league title. We need to take care of our business first against Alliance – they are a talented team! Playing for a chance at a league title at the end of the year is a huge accomplishment for our group!” 

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