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South Lewis beats Sandy Creek, goes to 9-1 overall

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SANDY CREEK — As South Lewis coach Kirk Gerhardt entered the locker room after one of the Falcons’ biggest wins in years Tuesday night, he realized his team was pretty subdued.

“Get excited,” Gerhardt told his players. “This was a huge victory. It shows that all of the hard work you‘ve put in the last few years has been worth it.’’

South Lewis (9-1 overall, 8-1 league), an also ran in the Frontier League “C’’ Division for most of the past two decades, now sits atop the division after a come-from-behind 50-47 win over host Sandy Creek. Jason Martin scored 20 points as the Falcons seized the lead for good with four minutes left and then held off the Comets (10-2, 9-2) to avenge an earlier loss in Turin.

It was truly a milestone win for a South Lewis program that has been fighting hard to establish itself as a legitimate contender. Gerhardt told his team before hand to “embrace the opportunity’’ to play in such a meaningful game.

“But don’t be satisfied with just one big win. Let’s build on what we did tonight,’’ Gerhardt added.

Said Martin: “We knew it was a big game, and that we had to play well. They took it to us pretty good at home (85-67), so it was a matter of playing our game tonight and do what we do best.’’

Gerhardt employed a variety of zone defenses to almost completely shut down Sandy Creek’s perimeter game. The Comets managed just two hoops from behind the 3-point arc, and never did attack either the 2-3 or 1-3-1 zones with any competency.

South Lewis also held Sandy Creek’s second-leading scorer, Tyler Swarthout (15.6 points), scoreless.

“We were too timid against the zone,’’ Sandy Creek coach Jim Hunt said. “And our ball-handling was sloppy the entire game.’’

Still, Sandy Creek led most of the game because South Lewis failed to convert numerous easy shots near the hoop. “We make some of those and it probably isn’t as close as it was,’’ Gerhardt said.

Sandy Creek held a 17-13 lead after one quarter and a 28-26 halftime lead.

Sandy Creek’s Reis Harding (15 points) hit two free throws in the final minute of the third quarter to tie the game at 36-all heading into the final eight minutes.

With the score tied at 40, Shawn Loomis converted a three-point play to put South Lewis on top as the clock wound down to four minutes remaining.

Sandy Creek turned the ball over on three straight possessions, and Nick Arrigo and Josh Newman converted short baskets to boost the South Lewis lead to 47-40 with 3:09 to play.

“Jason got us going early, and then it was a total team effort,’’ said Gerhardt, who was just 18-35 in his first three seasons as varsity head coach. “We’ve got seven seniors in our program, and they’ve been through a lot the last few years. But they’ve finally learned to match their physical and mental abilities and played more consistently.’’

Zach Halsey, who led Sandy Creek with 17 points, hit a 3-pointer and then a short jumper to bring the Comets back within 49-47. Harding then stole the ball for an uncontested layup as the Falcons’ lead was trimmed to 49-47 with just over a minute to play.

After a timeout, South Lewis failed to score, and Sandy Creek took over with a chance to win or tie. However, Swarthout misfired on a 3-pointer in the final seconds, Loomis grabbed the defensive board and made a free throw to seal the win.

“We got a pretty good look at the end,’’ Hunt said. “But it was one of those games where we didn’t do much right.’’

“We never let them get too far ahead, and that was the key in a low-scoring game,’’ Martin said. “Those are the kinds of games in the past where we failed to execute. But this group has played together a lot the last three years, so we’re finally figuring things out.”

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