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Seneca East eliminated by Polar Bears

MONROEVILLE — Over its last four games — all losses — Margaretta only averaged 45 points a game.

The Polar Bears nearly had that at halftime on Tuesday.

Jake Leibacher led four Margaretta players in double digits with 14 points as the Polar Bears dispatched Seneca East 72-49 in Division III sectional semifinal action at the Monroeville Athletic Complex.

“We played some very good teams in that four-game stretch,” Margaretta coach Steve Keller said. “Truthfully, our guys had a mindset tonight of it being the second season. I think that stretch we had has made us better.”

Margaretta improves to 12-11 overall and advances to face Western Reserve (18-3) back at Monroeville on Friday at 6:15 p.m. It is the ninth straight season in which the Polar Bears have won at least one tournament game.

“We have been blessed,” Keller said. “Last year was the first time in school history that we have won three straight sectional titles. We have 32 minutes on Friday night to win a fourth straight.”

It was the start that the Polar Bears got that proved more than key. Margaretta ripped off the first 15 points of the game and never led by less than 13 points the rest of the game.

Nathan Schaefer scored the first points of the game before layups by Leibacher and Brycetyn Hedden. Leibacher and Schaefer nailed 3-pointers and Hedden split two free throws with 2:41 left. To that point, Seneca East (6-17) had missed all six of its shots and committed five turnovers.

“We have only had one player play here, but traditionally, we play well here,” Keller said. “We came out and played well early. We had some open looks, but you have to make them.”

Margaretta led 17-2 after eight minutes. The Polar Bears extended the margin to 27-6 after three consecutive scores by freshman Cameron Sosa. The Polar Bears used tough defense to force the issue against the Tigers, but also took care of the ball to maintain possession and good opportunities consistently.

“Margaretta was a balanced team before they came in,” SE coach Chris Long said. “They were balanced enough to be very scary.”

Margaretta maintained a 37-18 lead at halftime, but scores by Hedden and Leibacher extended the lead. After Andy Bauman scored for Seneca East, Hedden hit a triple, Leibacher hit a shot, and Hedden converted a three-point play for a 49-20 advantage.

“It is key to get everybody going,” Keller said. “At the end of the day, you can play as good a defense as you want, but you have to score more than the opposition. We did a nice job of seeing the floor and finishing shots.”

The Tigers put together their best stretch of the night when Jacob Siesel tallied 13 straight Seneca East points to cut the margin to 51-33.

But, as quickly as it came for the Tigers, it went. Sosa and Hedden scored before Spencer Michel hit a 3-pointer as time expired in the third quarter. Then, Daltyn Weidbrauk’s score off of an assist by Sosa made it 60-33.

“We had some kids making some plays and you give up those nine points,” Long said. “It was one of those things where I thought we did a good job getting there, but we had to force the pressure.”

Margaretta committed just five turnovers — two of which came in the final two minutes with the starting lineup out of the game.

“Tonight, we made some shots,” Keller said. “We got in transition because we got defensive stops.”

Sosa tallied 13 points off the bench for the Polar Bears while Hedden had 12. Schaefer tossed in 10 points for Margaretta, who lost 71-50 to Western Reserve in the Nov. 29 season-opening game. Leibacher did not play that night due to an injury.

“We have to draw something from the first meeting,” Keller said. “Western is extremely skilled and they always play well together. Having that experience is critical.”

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