High School basketball: Burden, Tigers off to fast start

Cutline: West Liberty-Salem High School senior Nick Burden dribbles through several Greenon defenders during their game earlier this season in Springfield. Michael Cooper/CONTRIBUTED
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Cutline: West Liberty-Salem High School senior Nick Burden dribbles through several Greenon defenders during their game earlier this season in Springfield. Michael Cooper/CONTRIBUTED

WEST LIBERTY — The thing that sets Nick Burden apart is his competitiveness, said West Liberty-Salem High School basketball coach Darrin Leichty.

“If there’s a 50/50 ball, it’s going to be his,” he said. “He has no quit and a motor that won’t stop.”

After playing through injuries each of the past two seasons, Burden is finally healthy — and he’s led the Tigers to a 4-1 and 3-0 start in the Ohio Heritage Conference North Division.

The Tigers won the division title last season, but graduated seven seniors, including OHC North Player of the Year Matthew Loffing. They’ve won four straight games since a season-opening loss to Miami East, including key conference victories over Greenon and Fairbanks.

Burden is leading the team in scoring (18.5 ppg), rebounding (8.5 rpg) and assists (2.5 apg) this season. Tigers junior Logan Saylor is also averaging 11.5 points and eight rebounds per game.

“I like the chemistry that we’ve had early on,” Burden said. “The defense has been good and that’s a huge bonus. I think we’re a lot better there this year than last year.”

Burden is the last of four brothers who all played sports at West Liberty. It was his three brothers — Grant, Ben and Trevor — who helped foster his competitiveness at a young age.

“I always wanted to outdo them,” he said.

Burden averaged 12 points and six rebounds per game as a sophomore in 2019, but suffered an ankle injury midway through the season. He earned first-team all-conference honors that season, but re-injured his ankle last fall on the football field.

He played through the injury last winter on the basketball court as the Tigers won the league title. Finally healthy, Burden was recently named first team All-Ohio as a wide receiver in Division V. He’s hoping to go out with a bang this winter.

“I enjoy having the ball and being that guy,” Burden said. “I don’t wanna be selfish, I just wanna win.”

That showed on Tuesday night at Fairbanks. With the Tigers trailing by two late in the game, Burden faced a double-team and found teammate Tanner LeVan for a 3-pointer that gave them the lead for good. They held on for a key 40-38 victory over the Panthers.

“He’s making the right decisions,” Leichty said. “If we need a rebound, he gets it. If we need to get it to somebody, he gets them the ball. He’s usually guarding the best player, too.”

After the loss to Miami East, the Tigers got back to work, Leichty said.

“We had four games in the first eight days,” he said. “There wasn’t much time to sit around and sulk. We had to get things together.”

They’ve won games at the defensive end, holding opponents to 45.4 points per game.

“We have a knack for making the other team play ugly, taking them out of what they want to do,” Leichty said. “Defensively, I’ve been pretty impressed with this group so far.”

Offensively, the Tigers have struggled at times, but expects to improve as the season progresses, he said.

“If we can get to 50, I like our chances,” Leichty said.

West Liberty-Salem travels to rival Mechanicsburg on Tuesday.

Rivalry games: Several big Clark County rivalries will take place this weekend, including two road trips for Shawnee. The Braves (1-0, 1-0 Central Buckeye Conference Kenton Trail Division) travel to Tecumseh (2-2, 1-0) on Friday night. On Saturday, the Braves travel to Greenon for a non-conference game.

Schedule set: Springfield is expected to open its season on Friday, Dec. 18. The Wildcats will host Springboro in coach Shawn McCullough’s debut. Springfield is one of several Greater Western Ohio Conference schools who paused athletics after Thanksgiving due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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