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High school boys basketball: Zehr’s winner completes Lowville turnaround

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Talk about the ultimate rags-to-riches story!

Lowville began its boys basketball season losing the first 10 games and needed to win four of its last six games just to make the Frontier League “B” Division playoffs.

But the Red Raiders took the scenario even a step farther Monday night, rallying to beat top-seeded South Jefferson 36-35 and capture the “B” Division playoff crown at Jefferson Community College.

Adding to the drama was the fact that Lowville senior Melvin Zehr, playing his first season of varsity basketball, made his one and only shot of the game with 11 seconds left to produce the winning points for the Red Raiders.

“It’s just unbelievable,” said veteran Lowville coach Andy Capone. “No one could ever have predicted this.”

No one but the red Raiders themselves, who refused to quit after the bad start and kept working and working toward a goal of becoming competitive.

“Coach stressed a strong work ethic every day in practice, and ultimately it paid off,” said Lowville sophomore Brian O’Connor, who scored 13 points. “Once we finally got that first win and got over the hump, we started to believe we could win some more games. But a month ago if you told me we’d be playoff champions I’d have said you were crazy.”

And Lowville did it on a night when senior Kyle Malik, the leading scorer averaging 18 points per game, was held to just four. But senior Dalton Rombough, whom Capone calls the team’s “X-Factor”, came up big with 13 points.

Still, Lowville found itself behind by five points with four minutes remaining after a Troy Randall rebound hoop. But regular-season champion South Jefferson (8-10) never scored again, and Lowville found just enough offense to win one of the ugliest, but prettiest games of the season.

“If you have a five-point lead in a low-scoring game like this, you should win,” Spartans coach Fred Piche said. “But we didn’t get the ball to the right people in the final few minutes, and we missed a lot of open shots, which has been a big problem all season.”

Down five, Lowville got a driving hoop from Rombough and two free throws from Malik to draw within a point with 2:56 remaining.

The Spartans, led by Troy Randall’s 10 points, managed only a desperation 3-pointer attempt at the end of the shot clock on its next possession, then missed a couple chances.

Malik missed a running one-hander, then a 15-foot follow shot on Lowville’s next possession. The Red Raiders then fouled South Jefferson sophomore Matt McClean with 32.1 seconds.

McClean, however, missed the front end of the one-and-one. Lowville came down looking for either O’Connor or Malik to take the potential game-winning shot.

“But they knew who we wanted to get the ball to,” Capone said. “First of all I’m surprised we passed the ball to Melvin, and I was more surprised when he turned around and took the shot.”

Zehr’s 10-foot bank shot put Lowville ahead 36-35. But the Spartans still had plenty of time to get off a decent shot.

“Our first goal was to get the ball to our big guys (6-foot-6 Bobby Lees and 6-4 Randall),” Piche said. “But when we couldn’t, we settled for a pretty good open look.”

Dylan Estal’s 15-foot baseline jumper was long and Malik secured the defensive rebound with 2.5 seconds left. South Jefferson got only a Lees heave from three-quarters court as the final buzzer sounded.


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