Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
CHILLICOTHE — If you’re wondering what’s on the menu at Washington, it’s revenge.
The Blue Lions haven’t feasted on victory much in the past three seasons. But this year already feels different.
After a season-opening victory over Warren, Washington stayed perfect on Tuesday with a 56-48 road win over Unioto — one where the Blue Lions (2-0) were forced to stave off a late rally attempt.
Lessons learned and experience gained as they go … coach Shannon Bartruff’s team looks to be a real contender in the Southeast District and they’re remembering what it feels like to lose.
“We’re trying to get this thing back on the tracks with a winning attitude, a winning mentality and a winning mindset,” Bartruff said. “That starts with everything. It starts with watching film, taking care of your body, a good practice mentality and staying focused. I’m super pleased with our defensive effort tonight and I like the fight in our guys.”
Washington’s defense allowed Unioto’s DeSean Branson to score 27 points. But no other Sherman reached double-digit scoring figures, including 6-foot-5 junior Evan Park.
Park was at the center of Washington’s game plan, one Bartruff said his kids executed to a tee.
“We really just had one day to prepare for [Unioto],” Bartruff said. “Park is one of the best players on that team. [Branson] went off tonight but Isaiah Haithcock, we challenged him to cover Park, who’s one of the most skilled big guys we’ll see all year. Isaiah freaking answered the bell big-time. His defense was phenomenal all night. I thought that was huge. We covered their ball screen well and we pressured their guards early, allowing us to get turnovers.”
Meanwhile, Washington’s Tanner Lemaster had his way in the paint all night long. The 6-foot-6 junior was a constant force below the bucket and finished with 26 points.
When the Blue Lions needed a bucket in the most dire of times, Lemaster provided it.
“I saw Tanner as he was leaving and told him that when he goes inside and plays like that, he’s hard to guard,” Unioto coach Matt Hoops said. “He’s hard to deal with. I’m pretty sure that’s one of the few times I’ve seen him commit to staying inside and playing. He reaped the rewards tonight. He helped them get out to the lead that they needed to win the game.”
After Branson put the Shermans (1-1) ahead 2-0 early, Lemaster led a 10-0 run to give Washington a 10-2 lead with 5:37 left in the first quarter. He’d scored thrice more at the 2:44, 54.8 and 23.3 marks before teammate John Wall hit a 3 to produce a 21-6 lead after one.
Lemaster made it 23-6 to begin the second before Unioto’s Blake Hoops ended the Blue Lions’ 9-0 run with 6:57 left. Using a mix of Lemaster, Wall and Reico Colter, Washington kept their double-digit lead throughout the rest of the half, going into the break with a comfy 33-16 edge.
But in the third, that’s when the lightbulb turned on for Unioto.
“Our energy was great in the first quarter, really in the first half,” Bartruff said. “In the second half, [Unioto] stayed in their zone. When we did a good job of getting the floor spread out, we got lay-ups. We got a little antsy. It’s high school basketball and that’s a spot that we’re going to learn from. But I like that we were in that spot and we responded.”
After Colter made it 35-16, Park and Lemaster traded buckets. Colter then scored again with 5:04 left before Newton Hoops dialed long distance to cut the deficit to 39-21. With 2:48 left, Colter hit a 3 to make it 42-21 before Branson and Hoops led Unioto on an 8-0 run, cutting the lead to 42-29.
By the end of the third, what was once a 21-point lead had been cut to 14 at 45-31.
Branson got a bucket and a foul shot to fall to begin the fourth before scoring again to make it 46-36 with 6:06 remaining. Unioto’s Jordan Perkins then nailed a triple, bringing the deficit to 46-39 and forcing Washington into a timeout.
“It shows we have heart and pride in what we’re trying to do,” Hoops said. “We’re not going to lay down. We’re going to keep playing. That’s what we did. We kept playing. Unfortunately, we just ran out of time and gas.”
Lemaster and Isaiah Haithcock answered with two consecutive buckets, pushing the lead back to 11 at 50-39, but Unioto wouldn’t go away. Newton Hoops hit his second triple with 4:10 to go before Branson scored at the 3:17 mark. Perkins then scored with 2:51 left, making it 50-46.
But that’s as close as Unioto could get. Colter hit, possibly, the biggest shot of the night on the next possession — a 3 with 2:22 remaining, giving the Blue Lions permission to take a collective deep breath.
From there, Washington hit its free throws and staved off a furious rally attempt to put away an eight-point win.
Lemaster finished the night with team-highs of 26 points and six rebounds while Colter had 14 points, four rebounds and three assists. Wall also chipped in with eight points and four rebounds.
Branson added three assists and five steals to his game-high 27 points while Newton Hoops added eight points and three rebounds. Jordan Perkins finished with five points and five boards, Park had four points and a team-high eight rebounds, and Blake Hoops ended with four points.
Unioto will attempt to bounce back on Friday at Logan. Meanwhile, Washington is back in action on Tuesday in Frontier Athletic Conference play, hosting McClain.
“Reico had 40 points the first night and I think a lot of teams think we’re going to live and die by him,” Bartruff said. “But we’ve got a lot of guys that can contribute. We’ve got kids that can knock down shots. It’s just a matter of us trusting each other, being unselfish and keeping the basketball moving. And we’ve got to continue to guard like we did tonight.”
Washington: 21-12-12-11 — 56
Unioto: 6-10-15-17 — 48
Washington: 23-51 FG, 3-8 FT, 7-18 3pt., 20 rebounds (Lemaster 6), 13 turnovers, 11 assists (R. Haithcock 4). Scoring: Lemaster 26, Colter 14, Wall 8, I. Haithcock 4, R. Haithcock 4.
Unioto: 21-43 FG, 3-3 FT, 3-12 3pt., 29 rebounds (Park 8), 18 turnovers, 8 assists (Branson 3). Scoring: Branson 27, N. Hoops 8, Perkins 5, B. Hoops 4, Park 4.