SEBRING — In dramatic fashion, the Sebring High School boys basketball team achieved milestones last Friday against Springfield.
Leading 67-66 with 8 seconds remaining, Trojans senior Gabe Lanzer went to the foul line for a one-and-one opportunity.
Lanzer was sitting on 999 career points after scoring 11 in the first half and none since against the Tigers, last year’s Division IV regional finalists.
Lanzer made his first free throw but missed the second, giving the Tigers one last chance.
With time running down, Clay Medvec’s 3-point attempt bounced off the backboard to Sebring’s Jake Hunter, sealing the Trojans’ ninth-straight win and keeping them alone in first place in the Mahoning Valley Athletic Conference.
The victory was the 200th career win for head coach Brian Clark, one of two active Mahoning County boys basketball coaches to lead teams to state. Poland’s Ken Grisdale is the other.
Asked if he’s glad he doesn’t have to carry the weight of achieving the milestone for another game, Lanzer didn’t hesitate.
“I’m so relieved,” Lanzer said, explaining that he felt pressure because so many friends and family were watching in anticipation.
Tuesday, the Trojans’ winning streak ended with a 75-69 overtime loss to Lowellville. Lanzer scored 34 points.
He is the sixth Sebring player to reach 1,000 points, the first since Greg Vankirk did it in 2003. Clark also was Vankirk’s head coach.
The Trojans (9-1, 4-1) are off to their best start since that state trip.
“I was telling them it doesn’t really matter, [the milestone] will come,” Lanzer said. “They were saying, ‘no pressure’ but all these family members [and friends] were coming.
“I said OK, but we have to focus on the game. We’re 8-0, we need to keep this streak going.”
In the second half, the Tigers (4-4, 3-2), led by Drew Clark, contained Lanzer and limited his open looks. Declining bad shots, Lanzer instead fed teammates Hunter, Dylan Johnson, Carson Rouse and Connor Shepherd, whose baskets helped the Trojans wipe out a 59-52 deficit in the fourth quarter.
“It was very unselfish of him,” Hunter said. “Obviously, he wanted to get to 1,000 points, but he didn’t let it get in the way of our game plan.”
Awhile back, Clark told Lanzer the final hurdle would not be easy.
“I talked to him several weeks ago about this, [saying] these are going to be the toughest 50 points you’re ever going to score,” said Clark, whose coaching career includes eight wins at Carrollton.
“Everybody has been playing Gabe exceptionally well,” Clark said. “To my players’ credit, they are recognizing it and making second and third reads on plays.
“And it’s opening things up for our other players,” Clark said. “What’s great about this team right now is we’re not trying to force anything to one player. We’ve got multiple players who can hit shots.”
The Trojans’ streak included close calls against Mineral Ridge, Western Reserve and Liberty.
“They are getting a little too close for comfort,” Lanzer said.
Clark said, “I’m sure the fans are thinking these are the 'Kardiac Kids.'”
Clark’s memories of previous milestone wins are a little foggy, just like this year’s Christmas Eve. He knows his 100th career win was against Lisbon, and his 100th win at Sebring was against Crestview.
“I don’t remember what year,” Clark said, laughing.
Clark called the Springfield win “very special. We’re protecting our league [lead]. A lot of people were questioning our schedule and how tough and gritty our kids are.
“We have a tremendous respect for the Springfield program — [we] watched them go all the way to the regional final last year. Great people.”
Reflecting on his 16 seasons as a head coach, Clark said, “I’ve been very blessed to have a lot of great players.”
When he was younger, Lanzer also played baseball, golf and football. He stopped playing football before entering high school.
The hardest sport to give up?
“Baseball — I picked it up at such a young age. It’s always been a big part of me,” Lanzer said, recalling how he loved being the batboy for his brother’s team.
In high school, he decided it was time to focus solely on basketball. Now 6 foot 3, Lanzer said he was 6-0 in junior high.
“People were telling me, ‘You’re so much better than you think you are,’” Lanzer said, adding that he lacked confidence and didn’t feel he played at his full potential. “When you’re tall, people expect you to be better at basketball.”
Pain has been a companion on his journey to 1,000. Before his sophomore year, he suffered a torn labrum on his left hip. He’s not sure how it happened but he remembers standing up after sitting against a wall and losing feeling.
“I couldn’t move,” he said. “That was the first time I can remember my hip popping ... and just locking up.”
His family decided to postpone surgery because of the nine-month recovery. Part of the reason is that his Mom’s research showed that not all athletes “come back and play or feel 100 percent [healthy],” Lanzer said.
He’ll have surgery when the basketball season ends in March.
“I was thinking about getting it [after his junior season] but the [long] recovery” meant he couldn’t play in the summer to get ready for his final varsity season.
After most games, Lanzer gets visits from college scouts. Despite his impending surgery, schools such as Wilmington are interested.
Lanzer has not decided on where he will be in the fall, but the University of Mount Union is a possibility if he doesn’t play. He’s going to wait to see how he is feeling after surgery before making a college decision.
His favorite subject is math.
“I’ve always been good with numbers,” Lanzer said, adding he plans to become an accountant.
One of his favorite advisers is Allison Thompson, his study hall teacher who offers encouragement and advice.
“We talk about sports, schoolwork, relationships,” Lanzer said. “She’s always on Jake (Hunter) and I to get our college [applications] done.
Monday, Sebring was voted second in the Associated Press state poll of Division IV teams.
The players have noticed how the community has been reminded of Sebring’s glory days.
Under Rick Brook, Sebring was state runner-up in 1970 (losing to Cincinnati Lincoln Heights, 62-60) and state semifinalist in 1973 (losing to Indian Valley South, 60-49). In 2004, Clark, who served as Brook’s assistant before becoming head coach, led the Trojans to the state semifinals (losing to Marian Stein Marion Local, 52-45).
“It feels great, it just being like what people [have] talked about, the way it used to be,” Lanzer said. “People come up to Clark to talk to him about the good old days.
“This is great — the fans are all coming. We’re getting [plenty of] community support,” Lanzer said. “It feels great, but I wish we would have done [this well] last year and the year before.”