BELLVILLE – Finally, the Lexington Minutemen got a chance to breathe.
To say Friday night’s 85-52 victory at Clear Fork was less eventful than last week’s opener at Berlin Hiland would be an understatement. The team bus got lost navigating its way through Amish Country on Black Friday and late-arriving Lex spent the rest of the night playing catch-up, rallying from 10 points down with 3:40 left to eventually win in overtime.
“We hit towns I had never heard of,” coach Scott Hamilton joked of that circuitous route to victory.
Friday’s path to win No. 2 was far less complicated.
Against the very young Colts, the Minutemen capitalized on the experience of four senior starters, balanced scoring, solid contributions off the bench and a size disparity that led to a 42-32 edge on the boards.
Six Lex players scored in double figures as Hamilton’s crew enjoyed a 21-6 edge in second-chance points and a 34-16 advantage in points off the bench. Senior guard Joey Zahn, coming off a 29-point, 7-assist performance at Hiland, led the Minutemen with 16 points, four assists and four steals despite early foul trouble.
“Talking to the guys before the game, I was telling them it was more about us,” Hamilton said. “We knew Clear Fork had a young team (only one senior) and they were going to be challenged. I told our kids to stay hungry and take good shots. We don’t want good shots; we want great shots.”
Backup post Chase Munro, battling back from a knee injury, hit all five of his field goal attempts, finishing with 12 points and seven rebounds. Maching him in the scoring column was junior guard A.J. Nickoli, while senior starters Joey Vore and Jonah Yaussy and freshman reserve Cade Stover each had 10.
Yaussy, who had 25 points at Hiland, had a game-high nine rebounds against Clear Fork, backed on the boards by Munro and Stover (seven apiece) and Vore (six). In addition to Munro and Stover, the Minutemen got a nice effort off the bench by Dana Shoulders (seven points) and Connor Baughman (five assists).
“Yaussy and Zahn are our (go-to) guys,” Hamilton said, “but with them drawing defensive attention the other guys have to step up like they did tonight.”
If this had been a 3-point shooting contest, the Colts would have won. They were 11 of 30 from distance, outscoring Lex 33-18 beyond the arc. Daniel Spencer popped off the bench to make three of four bonus shots, while freshman point guard AJ Blubaugh, lone senior Chris Spencer and Chase Endicott (team-high 10 points) each canned a pair.
“Once we got some ball movement, we were getting looks and knocking them in tonight,” Colts coach Steve Bechtel said. “It was tougher to get inside, but we’ll take 11 of 30. We knew rebounding would be an issue for us, but we showed heart.”
Four of Clear Fork’s first six baskets were 3-pointers and the Colts were able to hang fairly close until Lex broke it open with 13 unanswered points in the second quarter. Nickoli started the run by parlaying a turnover into a basket and finished it with a jumper in the lane. Zahn had seven straight points during that stretch and Yaussy scored off a putback as Lex pushed the lead to 35-17 en route to a 44-27 halftime cushion.
The Minutemen wouldn’t score in the second half until nearly three minutes had elapsed and the Colts were able to trim the deficit to 48-37 on a Christian Beer 3-pointer, but a triple by Shoulders triggered a 10-0 run by the Minutemen and the bulge was up to 66-42 by the end of the period.
“I remind myself to stay calm and positive,” Bechtel said about the challenge of coaching a team whose experience matches one of the team colors — green. “I was pleased with the effort. We played our butts off.”
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Lexington 17-27-22-19 85
Clear Fork 11-16-15-10 52
Lexington: 36-67 FG, 7-11 FT, 6-13 3pt. (Zahn 2, Nickoli 2, Shoulders, Baughman) 42 rebounds (Yaussy 9), 11 turnovers, 17 Assists (Baughman 5), 15 Steals (Zahn 4). Scoring: Joey Zahn 7 0-0 16; A.J. Nickoli 5 0-0 12; Joey Vore 4 2-3 10; Paul Hogsette 1 1-3 3; Jonah Yaussy 5 0-0 10; Dana Shoulders 3 0-0 7; Connor Baughman 1 0-0 3; Tommy Barkett 0 2-2 2; Cade Stover 5 0-0 10; Chase Munro 5 2-3 12.
Clear Fork: 18-57 FG, 5-7 FT, 11-30 3pt. (D. Spencer 3, C. Spencer 2, Endicott 2, Blubaugh 2, Barnett, Beer) 32 rebounds (Beer 8), 19 turnovers, 11 Assists, 4 Steals. Scoring: Justice Redman 1 0-0 2; Christian Beer 4 0-0 9; Chance Barnett 3 2-2 9; Chase Endicott 3 2-2 10; AJ. Blubaugh 2 0-0 6; Chris Spencer 2 0-0 6; Daniel Spencer 3 0-1 9; Tanner Winand 0 1-2 1.