CENTERBURG — The Utica Redskins wasted a valiant comeback on Wednesday night as they fell to the Licking Valley Panthers, 35-29, in a Division II sectional game at Centerburg High School. Utica rallied from an 11-point deficit in the third and fourth quarters, only to go scoreless in the final 4:05 of the game.
“Our kids did a good job,” said Utica coach Eric Sheck. “It is hard to pinpoint what went wrong. We turned the ball over two possessions in a row when we had a chance to take the lead. We just can’t make little mistakes like that. It has been our fortune all year. We have been in all of our games; we just can’t get past it.”
The final minutes weren’t the only time the Redskins (9-12) went scoreless for that long of a period, however. After scoring the opening basket on a Michael Sandman layup with 6:46 on the clock, Utica went 4:37 without scoring and Licking Valley took advantage. The Panthers got back-to-back 3-pointers by Drew Ryan and Chase Houston to start a 10-0 run. The Redskins finally broke the drought with a steal and layup from Kelsey Harriman at the 2:09 mark in the first quarter. The quarter ended with the Panthers leading, 10-4.
Licking Valley scored off a layup from Vince German early in the second quarter to lead by eight, but Utica responded with a 6-2 spurt over the last 5:49 of the quarter. Sandman had three points, four rebounds and one assist to help pull the Redskins back within four, 14-10, at halftime.
“We did not execute well in the first half, but it was still 14-10 at halftime,” said Sheck. “Our kids played well defensively. We just have to do a better job of executing in the half-court setting.”
Any momentum Utica had to end the half was lost with the trip to the locker rooms. Licking Valley opened the third quarter on a 9-2 run, building a 23-12 lead. The Redskins, however, didn’t give up. Instead, they answered with nine points of their own to make it a 23-21 game after three quarters of play. Four different players scored with Harriman collecting three assists along the way.
“We made a nice little run on them,” Sheck said. “Basketball is a game of ups and downs. We went on that nice little run, and I felt good about it because our kids got excited about that. That kind of got us out of our slump.”
A putback by Scott Cline to start the fourth quarter ties the game at 23, and their was little doubt that the game would go down to the closing seconds. The Panthers picked up a couple of free throws to go back up, but layups by Cline and Harriman gave Utica the 27-25 lead. The teams then traded shot, and a jumper by Charlie Branstool with 4:05 to play kept Utica ahead. That was their last bucket, however.
Licking Valley took advantage of seven Utica fourth-quarter turnovers to help end the Redskins’ season. Drew Riley scored a pair of buckets to put the Panthers ahead, 31-29 with 1:34 left, and two free throws each by German and Houston capped off the 35-29 victory.
“I give our kids a lot of credit,” said Sheck. “They played hard defensively; we jut didn’t execute offensively. You’ve got to give Licking Valley credit; they found a way to win a tough game. It was an ugly game for both teams. It is a tough loss.”
Houston finished with nine points, five rebounds and three steal to lead the Panthers. Ryan had seven points, four rebounds, five steals and five assists; and Riley added six points and eight rebounds.
Branstool led Utica, which scored in double figures only once, with eight points. He also had five rebounds; Sandman had seven points and 11 boards; and Harriman had five points and three assists.
Licking Valley advances to play Olentangy Orange, the No. 5 seed, on Saturday at 6:15 p.m. at Centerburg.