By TED RADICK
ADA — Losing stings, perhaps more so when an opportunity for victory is so close at hand.
Liberty-Benton led for much of the fourth quarter in Tuesday’s Division III regional semifinal against Archbold at Ohio Northern University, but the Bluestreaks turned the tide in the late going and came away with a 37-33 victory.
Archbold (24-2) advances to play the winner of tonight’s Wynford vs. Columbus Africentric game in a regional final at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Lexington High School. Liberty-Benton ends its season at 22-3.
With Archbold down 32-28 with just more than three minutes to play, Cassidy Williams stole the ball from Liberty-Benton’s Rachel Myers. She got to the free-throw line and made a shot, and Archbold forced a turnover on the Eagles’ ensuing possession.
Williams drained a 3-pointer to tie the game, and the Bluestreaks had all the momentum.
“Normally we go to our press after a made basket,” Archbold coach Brian Ziegler said. “Tonight, we said we’re going to press no matter what, make or miss. The girls were so disciplined to get into their press after a miss, which is very hard to do.
“Liberty-Benton wasn’t really forcing the issue trying to fast break, so it enabled us to get into our press. It made them work for shots after a miss, and like I said the girls were so disciplined in getting into the press and getting some traps.”
That trapping, pressing defense forced Liberty-Benton into 19 turnovers. Four came in the fourth quarter of a tight ballgame as the Eagles saw lead that was as much as five points at several times in the fourth slip away.
“We couldn’t hold our lead … turnovers throughout the game, but at the end of the game there were a couple of extra turnovers and some one-and-ones that we didn’t capitalize on,” Liberty-Benton coach Nate Irwin said. “When you have a two- or three-point lead and you can’t hang onto it … they came down and hit a 3 and we couldn’t get back into it.”
Hannah Hesterman grabbed an offensive rebound and scored on a putback to give Archbold a 34-32 lead with 1:40 left. The Bluestreaks, on a 7-0 run at that point, wouldn’t give that lead up.
Jensen Hiegel hit a free throw to stop the bleeding for a moment. She missed her second; L-B was 1 for 4 from the line in the closing minutes of the game.
“We missed free throws, that was the difference,” Irwin said. “We got a few one-and-ones, and got nothing out of them. We had to foul them late in the game, and they converted. Late in the game, that was the difference.”
Two free throws by Jesse Fidler put Archbold up 36-33 with 33 seconds left. Another Liberty-Benton turnover followed as the Eagles were stymied trying to set up a game-tying shot.
“If we don’t get turnovers, we’re still going to get a trap somewhere,” Ziegler said. “The thing is, we’re keeping them from getting any kind of flow with their offense. We made them work and try and create more than they’re used to.”
“We helped them out,” he said. “There were times we had opportunities to attack, and we dribbled ourselves into trouble. The sideline becomes an extra defender, and they did a good job of capitalizing on that.
“We just didn’t execute. Some of that was poor decision-making on our part, and some of that was their defense is good. They forced us to do things we weren’t comfortable doing, and they took advantage of the errors that we had.”
Liberty-Benton had one big run in the first half, scoring nine consecutive points to grab a 17-10 lead. Archbold went the entire second quarter without scoring, including an 0 of 9 stretch from the field, before Alexa Coressel hit a 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer to cut L-B’s lead to 17-13.
“A huge momentum breaker was the 3-pointer at the half by Alexa Coressel,” Ziegler said. “That got us right back into a positive attitude. We’ve had games where we’ve shot well, and games where we’ve shot poorly. We just kept saying to dig down defensively and rebound, and the shots will fall. By the end, that’s what happened.”
Archbold was 6 of 22 shooting in the first half but forced 10 Eagles turnovers.
“We weren’t scoring, but we weren’t letting them get a lot of points,” Ziegler said. “That was a big key; we weren’t scoring but we held them in check.”
Three straight baskets by Cassidy Williams gave the Bluesteaks a 20-19 third-quarter lead, and another Williams bucket put Archold up 23-19.
Myers, who scored a game-high 17 points, answered with a 3-pointer for L-B. Myers then scored the first two baskets of the fourth quarter as the Eagles surged ahead.
“I’m thinking, it’s not going to look good now,” Ziegler said. “I was afraid Rachel was going to get to the foul line, where she is great, but we didn’t let her get to the basket too much.”
A Myers layup gave Liberty-Benton a 32-27 edge with four minutes remaining. Williams, who led Archbold with 14 points, then jumpstarted the Archbold comeback. Liberty-Benton held Archbold’s leading scorer Cassidy Wyse to eight points, and Williams took a key role in the Bluestreak offense.
“The Williams girl hit some big shots, especially in the third quarter,” Irwin said. “Because we were so worried about (Wyse), that probably opened things up for her teammates. They had some role players step up and hit some big shots for them.”
Lauren Kotey had a double-double for Liberty-Benton with 10 points and 11 rebounds. Carrie Reynolds added five points and Hiegel six rebounds.
Wyse had six rebounds and two assists for Archbold. Williams had three of the Bluestreaks’ 11 steals.
Hiegel 0-1 1-3 2, DeVincentis 0-4 0-0 0, Kotey 5-5 0-1 10, Myers 5-9 6-8 17, Reynolds 2-6 0-2 5. TOTALS: 12-25 7-14 33.
Cassidy Wyse 3-10 204 8, Hesterman 2-4 0-0 4, Williams 5-11 2-4 14, Fricke 2-4 0-0 4, Fidler 1-8 2-2 4, Walker 0-1 0-0 0, Coressel 1-1 0-0 3, Leaser 0-0 0-0 0, Cassi Wyse 0-1 0-0 0. TOTALS: 14-40 6-10 37.
Liberty-Benton 8 9 7 9 — 33
Archbold 10 3 12 12 — 37
3-POINT GOALS: Liberty-Benton 2-5 (Myers 1-2, Reynold 1-2, DeVincentis 0-1); Archbold 3-13 (Williams 2-4, Coressel 1-1, Fidler 0-3, Fricke 0-2, Cassidy Wyse 0-1, Walker 0-1, Cassi Wyse 0-1).
REBOUNDS: Liberty-Benton 23 (Kotey 11, Hiegel 6); Archbold 20 (Cassidy Wyse 6, Fidler 5).
ASSISTS: Liberty-Benton 4 (Hiegel 3); Archbold 8 (Cassidy Wyse & Coressel 2).
STEALS: Liberty-Benton 4 (Hiegel 2); Archbold 11 (Williams 3, Hesterman & Fidler 2).
BLOCKS: Liberty-Benton 3 (Kotey 3); Archbold 0.
TURNOVERS: Liberty-Benton 19, Archbold 8.
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