By ANDREW WILLIAMS
ADA — Liberty-Benton got it done Thursday night the same way it has all season.
With a balanced offensive attack featuring four senior players on the perimeter and a sophomore in the post, the Eagles blitzed St. Henry from all areas of the floor and brought waves of defensive intensity en route to a 57-34 victory in a Division III boys district semifinal at Ohio Northern University.
Liberty-Benton (19-4), winners of 15 straight games, will face Lima Central Catholic (20-4) for the district title Saturday at 7 p.m. The Eagles last loss was a 67-38 drubbing at the hands of the Thunderbirds on Dec. 28, when Liberty-Benton was shorthanded due to injuries.
Lima Central Catholic used a big second half to roll past Carey 84-61 in the nightcap at the ONU Sports Center.
The Eagles starting lineup of Nathan Craft, Adam Cytlak, John Darnall, Zach Garver and Ryan Geise each average double figures in scoring this season, ranging from 10 to 14 points per contest, and that same balance was on display throughout the game.
Craft opened the game with six straight points and finished with eight in the opening period. Geise one-upped him with 10 in the second as Liberty-Benton opened up a 29-18 advantage at halftime.
“That’s been us. That’s unique about this team,” Cytlak said. “That’s why I think it’s so hard to guard us. You look at us top to bottom, it’s like 14 to 10.9 (points per game). That’s our average so it really helps pressure-wise offensively. One guy doesn’t have to get 20 every night. It’s harder for them to guard us, but it’s definitely less pressure for us to play just move the ball and find the open guy.”
On this night, it was Craft that shouldered a good chunk of the load for the Eagles. The 6-foot-5 sophomore recorded game highs in points with 19 and rebounds with nine, while shooting 69.2 percent (9 of 13) from the field.
He popped in six in the third quarter and Cytlak added five as Liberty-Benton outscored the Redskins 17-7 in the period to grab a 46-25 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
“I was just trying to do whatever for the team to help us win,” Craft said. “I was just doing my part. Any game it could be a different guy scoring that. It was just in the flow of the game.”
The Eagles were extremely efficient from the field, shooting 58.8 percent (20 of 34) for the contest and 82.4 percent (14 of 17) from the foul line. The Redskins, by contrast, hit 26.5 percent (13 of 49) of their attempts from the floor, including 14.3 percent (3 of 21) from 3-point range.
“We have a good shooting team,” Liberty-Benton coach Steve Williman said. “We don’t have that specific scorer. I think Adam said we have five guys that average between 13.8 and 10.9. We also talked about how important it was going to be to have an inside-out game and we couldn’t just live on the perimeter. We got the ball inside early to Nathan and Nathan was able to finish some plays.”
St. Henry, which finished the season 17-8, could never get into a rhythm offensively thanks to constant pressure being applied to the Redskins’ go-to player Ryan Mikesell. The 6-foot-6 junior was the only member of his team to notch double figures with 14 points to go with seven boards as St. Henry’s nine-game win streak came to an end.
Geise tallied 15 points, Cytlak finished with 10 points and five assists and Garver added eight points, eight rebounds and four assists for the Eagles.
“Twenty-six and half (percent) sounds about right,” St. Henry coach Eric Rosenbeck said of his team’s shooting performance. “Our inability to finish on offense, I really think played a huge role in us kind of scrambling around on defense and getting out of our slides.
“I don’t want to say the moment was too big, but I do want to say that we did not execute like a team that was in the district semifinals. Everybody has a bad game every once in awhile and we had a bad night to have a bad game and they deserve a lot of credit for that.”
In the nightcap, Carey hung tough with seventh-ranked Lima Central Catholic throughout the first half and trailed just 35-28 after the opening two quarters.
Laine Wentling’s 3-pointer to start the second half made it 35-31 and Zach Boes’ basket with 4:57 to play in the third quarter cut it to 43-39, but that was as close as the Blue Devils (18-5) would get the rest of the way.
The Thunderbirds finished the quarter on a 23-4 run, outscoring Carey 31-15 in the period, and grabbed complete control of a game that was close just minutes earlier.
“Through two quarters and a half I thought we played them pretty well,” Carey coach C.J. Kin said. “We had that stretch of two minutes where we had six turnovers, led right to points and all of a sudden it ballooned from seven points up to 16, 17, 18 points. By the time we righted the ship it was already 20. We got out of what we wanted to do and we couldn’t do that against a good team like LCC.”
Jared Wentling scored 11 of his game-high 25 points in the fourth quarter and finished with 10 rebounds, but Carey was unable to cut into the Thunderbirds’ advantage thanks to to Tre Cobbs’ nine points in the period.
Cobbs tallied 16 points, while Xavier Simpson led the team with 21 points and seven assists, Martyce Kimbrough added 18 points and seven assists and Dantez Walton contributed 14 points for Lima Central Catholic.
Bryan Powers tallied 15 points and five assists and Zach Boes dropped in 12 points for Carey.
“I thought we did a great job of coming out in the third quarter with our defensive intensity,” Lima Central Catholic coach Frank Kill said.
“We scored 31 points and a lot of that came from our pressure from our guards. We pride ourselves on the defensive end and I kind of challenged them not to help as much, but more pressure on the guy with the ball and we did a good job.”
ST. HENRY (17-8)
Mikesell 5-15 2-3–14, Schwieterman 3-10 1-2–7, Bender 1-2 0-0–3, M. Stammen 1-7 0-0–2, Prenger 2-7 0-0–4, P. Stammen 0-1 0-0–0, Knapke 0-1 0-0–0, J. Niekamp 0-0 0-0–0, Jacobs 1-3 2-2–4, A. Niekamp 0-2 0-0–0, Ahlers 0-0 0-0–0, Lefeld 0-1 0-0–0. TOTALS: 13-49 5-7–34.
Geise 5-7 3-3–15, Garver 2-4 4-4–8, Craft 9-13 1-2–19, Cytlak 2-4 5-6–10, Darnall 2-4 0-0–4, Lawson 0-0 1-2–1, Haan 0-1 0-0–0, Rhodes 0-1 0-0–0, May 0-0 0-0–0, Stienman 0-0 0-0–0. TOTALS: 20-34 14-17–57.
St. Henry 9 9 7 9 — 34
Liberty-Benton 13 16 17 11 — 57
3-Point GOALS: St. Henry 3-21 (Mikesell 2-8, Bender 1-1, M. Stammen 0-4, Prenger 0-3, A. Niekamp 0-2, Schwieterman 0-1, Knapke 0-1, Lefeld 0-1); Liberty-Benton 3-9 (Geise 2-4, Cytlak 1-2, Garver 0-1, Darnall 0-1, Haan 0-1).
rebounds: St. Henry 23 (Mikesell 7); Liberty-Benton 29 (Craft 9, Garver 8).
ASSISTS: St. Henry 5 (Jacobs & Schwieterman 2); Liberty-Benton 11 (Cytlak 5, Garver 4).
STEALS: St. Henry 5 (Schwieterman 2); Liberty-Benton 5 (Garver 3).
BLOCKS: St. Henry 3 (Mikesell 3); Liberty-Benton 3 (Craft 2, Darnall 1).
TURNOVERS: St. Henry 9; Liberty-Benton 10.
TOTAL FOULS: St. Henry 16; Liberty-Benton 15.
FOULED OUT: None.
HALFTIME: Liberty-Benton 29-18.
Boes 5-9 2-2–12, J. Wentling 10-19 4-5–25, Holsinger 1-1 0-0–2, Powers 5-14 2-2–15, L. Wentling 1-1 0-0–3, Distel 1-1 0-0–2, Rymer 1-1 0-0–2, Griffin 0-1 0-0–0. TOTALS: 24-47 8-9–61.
LIMA CENTRAL CATHOLIC (20-4)
Walton 6-6 2-2–14, Williams 2-3 0-0–4, Simpson 7-14 6-10–21, Kimbrough 5-13 4-5–18, Cobbs 6-12 3-4–16, Stewart 3-3 5-6–11, Taflinger 0-0 0-0–0, E. O’Connor 0-2 0-0–0, A. O’Connor 0-0 0-0–0, White 0-0 0-0–0. TOTALS: 29-53 20-27–84.
Carey 15 13 15 18 — 61
Lima Central Catholic 17 18 31 18 — 84
3-Point GOALS: Carey 5-13 (Powers 3-7, J. Wentling 1-3, L. Wentling 1-1, Boes 0-2); Lima Central Catholic 6-18 (Kimbrough 4-10, Simpson 1-4, Cobbs 1-3, E. O’Connor 0-1).
rebounds: Carey 21 (J. Wentlin 10); Lima Central Catholic 29 (Kimbrough 5).
ASSISTS: Carey 14 (Powers 5); Lima Central Catholic 20 (Simpson & Kimbrough 7).
STEALS: Carey 6 (Boes & J. Wentling 2); Lima Central Catholic 14 (Simpson 7).
BLOCKS: Carey 3 (J. Wentling 3); Lima Central Catholic 0.
TURNOVERS: Carey 17; Lima Central Catholic 10.
TOTAL FOULS: Carey 16; Lima Central Catholic 13.
FOULED OUT: Holsinger (Carey).
HALFTIME: Lima Central Catholic 35-28
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