Columbia Raiders clinch 1st conference title in 21 years

COLUMBIA STATION — It’s been 21 years since the Columbia Raiders have won a conference championship outright.

Well, after pulling off a tough 51-45 win over Clearview on Friday night, the Raiders ended that streak in dominant fashion, finishing with a perfect 14-0 conference record to win the Patriot Athletic Conference outright.

“It’s been a long time coming, and I couldn’t be happier for my guys.” Columbia head coach Larry Babics said. “This is so big for our school, community, administration, and athletic program. Our guys have been working years for this and they got it done. I’m a very proud coach tonight.”

The celebration was nearly crashed by the stingy Clippers, who climbed back into the game every time Columbia started to run away with it.

“Hats go off to coach Babics and all his players, they definitely deserve this,” Clearview coach John Szalay said. “We had our chances though and if we don’t commit a couple of the silly turnovers, I think this could have been a very different outcome.”

Columbia, specifically senior Jacob Simon, got off to one of the hottest starts a team, or player, could imagine.

Simon hit two 3-point baskets within the first minute of the game to quickly give the Raiders a 6-4 lead.

After Clearview’s Daimon Knowles hit a 3 of his own, Simon scored on a layup the very next possession.

A few plays later, Simon connected on another 3-pointer and with 5:00 remaining in the first quarter, Simon already had 11 points.

“What can you say about that start? It was about as good as it gets,” Babics said. “Simon was absolutely on fire and that quick lead we built came in handy later in the game.”

When the game finally settled down Columbia got its lead up to 18-7 late in the first quarter.

The Clippers battled back throughout the first half, however, cutting the lead down to just four on numerous occasions.

Columbia’s leading scorer Zach Stopper picked up a lot of the scoring load after Simon’s hot start, chipping in 11 first-half points as the Raiders took a 30-22 lead into the half.

The teams traded baskets throughout the third quarter.

Clearview’s Gerrell Williams carried the Clippers in the third, pulling down six rebounds and scoring eight points.

Columbia got the lead back to double digits early in the fourth quarter when Brandon Severo’s 3-pointer gave the Raiders a 44-34 lead.

The big lead didn’t last long.

Clearview, fueled by tenacious defense, went on a 9-2 run to pull with three, 46-43, with two minutes left.

Unfortunately for the Clippers, a few costly turnovers were too much to overcome.

Up 47-43, Stopper stepped to the line and calmly hit four straight free throws that sealed the game and the conference title for the Raiders.

“Give the Clippers a lot of credit, they gave us all they got,” Babics said. “They are a very good, well-coached team and this game could have went either way.”

The Raiders hit nine 3-pointers on their way to win No. 18 on the year. They are now 18-1 overall and 14-0 in conference.

The Clippers drop to 8-9, 6-7. They have a big game tonight as they take on Lorain High.

@MJournalSports

Last Updated: 2/8/2013 11:54:32 PM EST

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