HARTVILLE If they’re lucky, most basketball players will have one game-winning, buzzer-beating shot in their career.
Lake Center Christian junior guard Zach Page met that standard and quickly doubled down on his hero status, resulting in a week where he won back-to-back league games for his team with 3-pointers in the closing seconds. The heroics for Page could not have come at a better time, vaulting the Tigers back into the thick of the Portage Trail Conference County Division race.
“For sure those games put us back in contention and for me, it really goes back to the guys having trust in me to keep shooting,” Page said.
The first of his game winners came against Mogadore, which has dominated the PTC County the past few seasons. Playing on the Wildcats’ court, Page and his team trailed by two, 68-66, in the closing minute of the game. Head coach Philip Budervic drew up a play in which Page was to set a screen for John Paul Miller and Miller, LCC’s leading scorer, was to move away from Page. If both defender followed Miller, his directive was to pass the ball back to Page for the shot. Should only one defender follow, Miller was told to either take the open shot or drive to the basket.
“Before breaking the huddle, I look both players in the eye and told them I had full confidence in both of them to take the winning shot,” Budervic said.
As the play unfolded, Page was open at the top of the key and without hesitation, took the shot. It dropped through the net as time expired, setting off a wild celebration on the LCC bench. Ironically, the Tigers ran the same play in practice the next day and Page made the shot again, prompting his coach to label the play “The Zach” for future reference.
Three days later, LCC found itself in what has become a familiar position this season, trying to grind out a win in a close game. Six times the Tigers have found themselves in games decided by three points or less and five times, they’ve found a way to win. Against Garrettsville, there was no timeout to set up the final play as there had been against Mogadore. In a timeout a few minutes earlier, called by the G-Men, Budervic called out to Page to "do the Zach for me one more time" and when the Tigers took possession and had a fast break in the closing seconds, Page obliged by hitting a 3-pointer from the wing for the victory.
“Against Garfield, it was more unstructured and I just stepped back and I was open,” Page said. “It was honestly a crazy feeling, but I love taking a shot like that.”
The winning shot against Garrettsville was made all the more remarkable by the fact that Page was scoreless in the game up to that point. As one of the first players off the bench for LCC, he typically puts up a few points to help supplement the scoring of veterans such as Miller and Jared Rittenour, but against the G-Men, Page had a goose egg in the points column as the clock wound down.
“It is always an amazing feeling to see and witness one of my players experiences success on or off of the court. It is great to see the look on their face when success strikes. Those types of moments mean more to me as a coach than the victory,” Budervice said of the two game-winning shots. “It was truly astonishing to see the same player make two game winning three point shots in two consecutive games.”
In the days that followed, Page had no shortage of friends, teammates, family members and even teachers take time to congratulate him on his clutch performances. Several times, people approached him at school pat him on the back. He had never had a game-winning shot before - though he did make a late three to tie a JV game last season - and Page made sure he enjoyed the experience of being a hero for his team.
Given LCC’s habit for playing close games this season, there could be more chances for game-winning shots in Page’s future. Every team needs a player willing to step up and take such shots when the pressure is on and players such as former NBA forward Robert “Big Shot Bob” Horry made a career out of delivering when the pressure was highest even though they weren’t the highest-profile player on their team.
The key to being able to succeed in such moments, according to Page, is confidence.
“I’d really say confidence in knowing that your coaches and teammates trust you even though you might not be having the best game,” Page said.
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