Northridge boys cut down nets, rival Johnstown in first-ever league title
ALEXANDRIA ― Ian Travis wore the net around his neck, and a broad smile on his face.
It's been quite the journey for him and Northridge's other two four-year lettermen, and his took a detour when he had to have double hernia surgery before the season. Suffice it to say, however, that it's been worth the wait. On Friday night, before a roaring crowd on their home floor, the Vikings made history, and did it against their neighboring rival. Before a packed house, Northridge beat Johnstown 53-46 and claimed the Licking County League-Cardinal Division title, their first boys league championship in school history.
"I was out a couple months, then missed our first two games," Travis said. "I came back for the Zanesville game, and I've kind of eased my way back in. I'm feeling great now. I feel like a champion!"
"It's huge. These are guys I've been playing with since we were growing up," said Zach Holder, another four-year veteran. "We really started to come together in middle school, and Ian and I both were able to come back from injury for this season."
The Vikings (15-3, 12-1), who won their sixth straight game, halted a six-game winning streak by the Johnnies (12-7, 9-4) in emphatic fashion. They bolted ahead 14-0 as Johnstown missed its first 10 shots, and never looked back. Northridge dominated the backboards 33-20 and didn't allow a 3-pointer until the fourth quarter. The Johnnies finished just 18-of-48 from the floor for 38%.
"The last game (a 62-53 Northridge win) they hit seven 3s in the first quarter on us, so we were totally focused on the outside," Travis said. "We were not even helping off on the inside."
"We were letting them go down low," coach Bill Mallernee said. "We were not helping, and were basically trading 2s for 3s."
Johnstown was focused on taking away junior star Carter Mallernee with defensive stopper Caleb Schneider, so the Vikings flashed their balance. Mallernee had six in the opening surge, including a 3-point play off a tip-in, while Travis, another four-year player in Justin Townley and junior Ethan Payne also scored.
"Being at home was so much better, and getting them down early and making them scramble back, in this atmosphere, made it really difficult for them," coach Mallernee said. "They're a really good team who can go far in the tournament. We finally beat them last year and swept them this year, and that's no easy task."
Versatile Johnnies' senior Cody Siegfried, who turned in a 25-point, nine-rebound performance, had five quick points starting the second quarter as the visitors pulled within 14-9. But Northridge didn't flinch. Townley scored inside while Mallernee drove for a layup, and assisted Holder and Payne on 3s as the Vikings pulled back out to a 27-15 halftime lead. Senior Lane Hess turned a Holder deflection into a hustling transition layup.
Johnstown never threatened again, hampered by a 2-of-11 third quarter, and Siegfried's 16-point fourth-quarter explosion, which included a trio of 3s, helped the Johnnies chop the deficit down to the final margin. The reliable Townley scored eight second-half points, while the Vikings sank 10-of-14 free throws down the stretch, four by Travis and three from Holder.
Mallernee was held to 15 points, but Townley had 12 points and seven rebounds, Travis nine points and nine rebounds, Payne nine points and six rebounds and Holder chipped in with eight points. Northridge was a solid 18-of-38 from the field for 47 percent.
"Everybody can score on this team. Taking away someone just opens it up for someone else," Holder said. "It's pretty much pick your poison," coach Mallernee said.
"We really locked down on defense, and wanted to be strong with the ball," Townley said. "Since our eighth grade year, I thought we could do this, because by the time we were seniors, we would have enough experience."
Travis wasn't always so sure.
"I knew we could be something special, but you're never completely sure," he admitted. "Coach had as middle schoolers, for multiple years, and that's really helped."
Coach Mallernee knew he had something brewing in middle school.
"Just by the way they were moving, I thought by the time they were juniors and seniors, they could be a pretty special group," he said. "Every summer, before mini camp, I point to that wall and say, 'there's not a number up there' (under league championships). They've wanted it for a long time. It's not easy to win a title in this league, especially with the crossovers against the big schools."
The Vikings figure to be a high seed in a loaded Division III district that includes Africentric, Harvest Prep, Worthington Christian and Columbus Academy. They are looking beyond a league title.
"We want to cut more nets down," Travis said.
This article originally appeared on Newark Advocate: Northridge boys cut down nets, rival Johnstown in first-ever title