COLUMBIA STATION — It was a celebration 21 years in the making Friday night at Columbia High.
Behind a 22-point performance from senior Zach Stopper, the Raiders clinched their first Patriot Athletic Conference Stripes Division title with a 51-45 win over Clearview.
It was Columbia’s first outright conference title since winning the MAC-8 in 1992.
“I couldn’t be any happier right now for my teammates, especially my fellow seniors,” Stopper said. “This is what we’ve worked hard every day for. It was great to do it at home in front of our great fans that have supported us all season.”
After winning two division titles as Columbia’s girls coach, Larry Babics got the Raiders to the top of PAC mountain in his first year on the boys bench.
“It’s a great night for our players, the assistant coaches, the administration who had the guts to hire a girls coach who had never coached boys before and everyone who had a part of making this happen,” Babics said. “I’m happy for the community and all of the fans I’ve seen come out to support all of our sports teams over the last seven years.”
The Raiders (18-1, 14-0) got off to a quick start thanks to Jacob Simon. The senior made his first four shots from the field, including three from 3-point range, to give Columbia a 16-7 lead. The 6-foot-4 forward finished with 13 points.
Clearview (8-9, 5-6) was able to slow down the tempo and claw its way back, but the Clippers were never able to cut the Columbia lead to less than three in the second half.
Gerrell Williams led the Clippers with 17 points, just below his season average of 19.0.
“I want to congratulate Columbia and coach Babics and the great seniors they have on that team. They’re a very deserving champion and they play the game the right way,” veteran Clearview coach John Szalay said. “There were a lot of times tonight though that we were our own worst enemy. We would cut the lead to five or six, then we’d throw the ball out of bounds or we would travel or miss a point-blank shot.”
The Raiders left the door open for Clearview to mount a comeback by missing five of their first six free throw attempts in the fourth quarter before Stopper stepped up to make four in a row in the final minute to seal the win.
“We work on free throws every day in practice and tonight it really paid off,” Stopper said.
With their friends and family cheering them on, the Columbia players cut down both nets after the game to celebrate the championship.
“We came out really focused,” Babics said. “We wanted to do this tonight at home. But we knew Clearview was a good team and they would give us a fight. After that run in the first quarter they shut us down and we battled back and forth all night.”
Before the Raiders could cut down the nets, Williams almost brought down the basket with a thunderous dunk — one of his two on the night — with 4:40 left in the game. The dunk bent the rim downward causing a brief delay before it could be knocked back into place.
Daimon Knowles hit three 3-pointers for the Clippers.
Contact Todd Shapiro at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Columbia 51, Clearview 45
CLEARVIEW (45): Gerrell Williams 8-1-17, Eric Burkey 2-1-5, Clifton Brown 3-6-12, Daimon Knowles 4-0-11. Totals 17-8-45.
COLUMBIA (51): Brandon Severo 1-0-3, Jay Banyasz 1-2-4, David Delahunty 1-0-2, Jacob Simon 5-0-13, Kevin Simon 3-1-7, Zach Stopper 7-6-22. Totals 17-9-51.
Clearview 14 8 12 11 — 45
Columbia 18 12 11 10 — 51
Three-point goals: Clearview (Knowles 3), Columbia (Simon, J., Stopper); Field goals: Clearview 17-46 (37 percent), Columbia 17-41 (42 percent); Free throws: Clearview 8-10 (80 percent), Columbia 9-14 (64 percent); Rebounds: Clearview 30, Columbia 25; Turnovers: Clearview 16, Columbia 11; Total fouls: Clearview 15, Columbia 11.
Junior varsity: Columbia, 57-55