Oak Mountain upstages Chelsea senior night

Published 10:19 am Friday, February 5, 2016

Chelsea’s Calen Russell goes up and under Payton Youngblood of Oak Mountain on Feb. 4. Russell and the Hornets could not keep pace with the Eagles however, and lost on senior night 55-46. (Contributed / Cari Dean)

Chelsea’s Calen Russell goes up and under Payton Youngblood of Oak Mountain on Feb. 4. Russell and the Hornets could not keep pace with the Eagles however, and lost on senior night 55-46. (Contributed / Cari Dean)

By BAKER ELLIS / Sports Editor

CHELSEA – Feb. 4 marked senior night at Chelsea High School, and the Hornets played host to in-county opponent Oak Mountain on the night in an attempt to send their five seniors out on a high note. Calen Russell, Aaron Washington, Ben Haskins, Stephen Lanzi and Grant Mitchell were all playing in their last home high school game. Oak Mountain, the No. 10 team in 7A, spoiled the night for the Chelsea seniors however, winning in a game the Eagles only trailed in for five seconds, 55-46.

Stephen Lanzi, a six-foot-five-inch senior, took the floor to start the game. He has not played basketball since his sophomore year in high school, when he was diagnosed with a rare genetic disease called LHON, which has left him legally blind. Lanzi started the game and scored the first two points, and received a standing ovation from the crowd, before subbing out.

After the special moment to start the contest, Oak Mountain went to work. Payton Youngblood and Will Stephenson combined for eight points in quick succession to take an early 10-4 lead, and never led by less than three points the rest of the way. The Eagles led 14-7 after the first quarter, but looked sloppy in the process, and head coach Chris Love went to his bench early and often to try and find a lineup that worked.

Joseph Lanzi, Stephen’s younger brother, did what he could to keep Chelsea in the game, but didn’t receive much help offensively in the first half. While Oak Mountain looked out of sorts at times and struggled with Chelsea’s high-intensity, on-ball pressure defense, the Hornets were not helping themselves on the offensive end either, as they struggled to find a shooting touch throughout the first half. When Stephenson hit a jumper at the buzzer, Oak Mountain went into the half up 25-17.

Chelsea was also without the services of junior guard Matt Marquet, who was held out of the game for disciplinary reasons, according to Chelsea head coach Nicholas Baumbaugh. Marquet is a dynamic playmaker who brings scoring and athleticism to the Hornets’ lineup, and his production against one of the top teams in the county was sorely missed.

After a back and forth third quarter, Haskins found himself at the free-throw line with less than 10 seconds left, down 34-26. He missed both free throws, but the ball took a funny bounce, popped out to Washington on the perimeter and Washington, who struggled for much of the game shooting the ball, banked in a three as time expired to give the Hornets some life.

Youngblood picked off a pass on Chelsea’s first possession of the fourth quarter and flushed it home with a powerful one-handed jam on the other end, and Stephenson hit two free throws soon after to put the Eagles up 40-29. However, Chelsea had one last push left, as Russell scored two quick buckets before Lanzi hit a tough shot to close the gap to three. But an ensuing miscommunication on defense left Stephenson open at the top of the key, and he buried a three to stretch the lead back out to six at 43-37, and Chelsea could not recover, eventually losing 55-46.

“We kind of got away from what we do just a little bit tonight,” Baumbaugh said. “Some of that was Oak Mountain and some of that was not having Matthew (Marquet), some other guys trying to do stuff we don’t usually do. I told our guys at halftime to just do what we ask you to do and good things will happen. I thought in the third quarter and mostly in the fourth quarter we did that, but when Will (Stephenson) hit that three in the fourth that was the game.”

Chelsea, after struggling for much of the year, had won five games in a row leading up to the Oak Mountain game, and has won seven of its last 11. The Hornets moved to 10-17 with the loss while Oak Mountain continues to be one of the most impressive teams in the county and moved to 21-7.

Joseph Lanzi led Chelsea with 15 points while Youngblood had 21 points and eight rebounds to lead Oak Mountain.