South Central had nearly erased the entirety of a nine-point deficit in the fourth quarter.
Enter JJ Weisenberger.
Weisenberger drilled a huge 3-pointer in the corner to give Western Reserve a five-point lead with exactly five minutes to play.
The Roughriders' lead never dipped below that mark and Western Reserve topped the Trojans, 68-61, to win the school's first outright Firelands Conference title since the 2012-2013 season. The two teams shared the FC title a year ago.
It is also South Central's first home loss this season and first since Dec. 27, 2017 against Norwalk.
"We did it the same way we have done the previous 17 games," Western Reserve coach Chris Sheldon said. "When you have a group of young men that block out outside noise — from the get-go, we were not picked to win the league title.
“Our best player and returning all-Ohio kid makes it three games. Our starting center blows out his knee two weeks ago. A lot of teams would fold under that sort of adversity,” he added.
The 'Riders (14-4, 13-0) even bumped the lead back up to nine points late in the fourth quarter by using unparalled aggressiveness to get to the line. Overall, Western Reserve made 24 of 32 free throws, connecting on 16 of 21 in the fourth quarter to fend off South Central (16-4, 11-2).
"I think our kids just understand. We have one goal every time we step on the floor," Sheldon said. "We understand before we step on what our focus and what our assignments are. Once we step on, live with the result as long as you give max effort. We can do that for 32 minutes."
Jude Munez scored with four seconds left in the third quarter and Luke Rowlinson opened the fourth quarter with a bucket to push the 'Riders ahead, 49-40, but that is when the Trojans kicked up the defensive intensity.
Simon Blair hit a 3 from the right side before Isaiah Seidel scored off on a Western Reserve turnover. After another empty possession by the 'Riders, Seidel hit two free throws to bring South Central within 49-47.
Evan Legg and Seidel each split two free throws before Weisenberger's 3 revived life into Western Reserve.
"We were down double figures," Sheldon said. "South Central started to put a press on and we started to turn it over. Our young men finally settled down and understood their assignments. They were willing to take shots."
Aiden Markley added two free throws before the Trojans again split two free throws twice. The latter was a foul on Weisenberger, who landed awkwardly on his right wrist and left the game in severe pain.
Western Reserve's free throw shooting allowed the 'Riders to keep South Central out of striking distance. Two makes each by John Skrada and Markley pushed the lead to 60-51 with 2:15 left. The Trojans got within five points when Seidel hit a 3 with 1:26 left and again when Blair's triple cut the margin to 66-61.
But, Western Reserve made two more free throws to seal the win. While the 'Riders excelled at the free throw line, South Central made just 8 of 18 attempts in the fourth quarter.
"I thought they made free throws and we did not," South Central coach Brett Seidel said. "We will give up a corner 3 in transition. We were trying to get back into it. I am not going to second-guess what I did. (Sheldon) is a better coach than me."
The Trojans took their only lead of the game when Legg canned a 3-pointer early in the first quarter. Western Reserve responded with 3s from Rowlinson and Skrada and a running layup by Cory Hipp put the 'Riders ahead, 17-11, after eight minutes.
In the second quarter, South Central cut the lead in half after a 3-point play by Blair, but Skrada made two free throws and a pull-up jumper by Markley pushed Western Reserve ahead, 24-17.
"I do not know if the kids pay attention as far as knowing when we lead or when we are down," coach Seidel said. "No matter what the score was, we were playing hard."
Legg connected on a jumper for the Trojans, but Markley made two free throws and Rowlinson hit his second 3 of the night for a 29-19 lead. South Central came up empty on its next possession, but Western Reserve could not cash in, as a 3-point shot was no good. Seidel did make a 3, helping the Trojans get within 30-23 at halftime.
"I thought our kids understood that the moment is not too big," Sheldon said. "They understood their assignments. They paid great attention to detail and they were able to live with the highs and lows that come in the course of 32 minutes."
Western Reserve opened the lead back up to double digits on five separate occasions in the third quarter - the last when Muenz drilled a triple from the top of the arc. South Central responded with five straight points and trailed 45-40 with 58.6 seconds left in the third quarter after two free throw makes by Blair.
"We have the ability to look at adversity and fear in the face and say bring it on," Sheldon said. "That is why we won. It is all about what is between your ears and in your chest. It helps to have some pretty good skilled basketball players as a side note too."
Blair, the league's leading scorer, paced South Central with 21 hard-earned points.
"Simon is always going to get his. He is that good of a player," Sheldon said. "We talked about corralling him the best we could. We live out in the country on the farm, so our guys know how to corral things. We wanted him to feel us. He loves contact when he is initiating it. We wanted him to feel us first."
Markley led Western Reserve with 20 points and seven rebounds while Weisenberger and Skrada each scored 10 points. Rowlinson (six rebounds) and Muenz added nine points and Hipp scored seven points.
"Anybody that watches us play — you do not know is going to be our leading scorer," Sheldon said. "You do not know who is going to get shots and who is not going to get shots. That is the makeup of our kids. They have bought in to what we have asked them to do."
Seidel added 18 points for the Trojans, who committed just nine turnovers, but made just 7 of 26 3-pointers.
"We did not shoot well and Western Reserve did," coach Seidel said. "Inside the (three) and outside the (three) they are very talented and very skilled. They have four all-district players on that team."
This is just the third time that South Central has allowed this many points in a game. The Trojans gave up 76 points in an overtime loss to Norwalk and 70 points in a win over St. Paul.
W. RESERVE (14-4, 13-0)
JJ Weisenberger 4-0—10, John Skrada 2-5—10, Aiden Markley 4-10—20, Luke Rowlinson 3-1—9, Hayden Huntington 1-0—2, Adam Lewis 0-1—1, Jude Muenz 3-2—9, Cory Hipp 1-5—7. TOTALS 18-24—68.
SOUTH CENTRAL (16-4, 11-2)
Simon Blair 6-7—21, Alex Holland 1-2—4, David Lamoreaux 1-2—4, Ethan Gifford 1-0—2, Isaiah Seidel 5-5—18, Evan Legg 2-1—6, Sam Seidel 2-1—6. TOTALS 18-18—61.
W. Reserve 17 13 17 21 — 68
So. Central 11 12 17 21 — 61
3-point FGs: (WR) Weisenberger 2, Skrada, Markley 2, Rowlinson 2, Muenz; (SC) Blair 2, I. Seidel 3, Legg, S. Seidel