By ANDREW WILLIAMS
ADA — Liberty-Benton’s four senior starters never left the floor Saturday night.
While they fought for all 32 minutes and even got within striking distance late in the game, it was the play of a senior and two sophomores from Lima Central Catholic that denied them an opportunity to keep their season alive.
Martyce Kimbrough and Tre Cobbs scored 14 points each and Xavier Simpson had a 12-point, 10-assist double-double in leading LCC to a 56-48 win over Liberty-Benton in the Division III boys district championship game at Ohio Northern University.
Lima Central Catholic advances to the regional tournament at Bowling Green State University where the Thunderbirds (21-4) will face Worthington Christian (18-7) at 6:15 p.m. Wednesday in one of two Division regional semifinals at BGSU’s Stroh Center. Ottawa-Glandorf (15-10) and Huron (18-6) meet in Wednesday’s second semifinal, with the winners returning at 7 p.m. Saturday for the final.
The first possession of the game was an ominous sign of things to come.
Lima Central Catholic missed its first three shots, but got the rebound on each miss. Kimbrough then nailed a 3-pointer, giving the Thunderbirds a lead they never lost.
Liberty-Benton (19-5) started the game in a man-to-man defense, but switched to a 2-3 zone and then to a 1-3-1 zone in the first quarter to give Lima Central Catholic different looks in the half court.
Not much worked for the Eagles, who trailed 14-8 after the first quarter.
“We were just trying to keep them off balance a little bit, not let them get comfortable in anything that we’re doing,” Liberty-Benton coach Steve Williman said.
“Regardless of what you do, they’re so good at breaking you down off the dribble. They can get to the rim, whether it’s zone or man, and find the open man. They’re difficult to guard.”
It wasn’t just one player doing the damage for the Thunderbirds as Kimbrough ended the first half with eight points, Cobbs had seven and Simpson tallied six to give Lima Central Catholic a 28-19 lead at halftime.
“The last two games we had five guys in double figures,” Lima Central Catholic coach Frank Kill said. “Tonight we only put up three, but it was still the points and the minutes that all the guys did. If it was a tip back here or a post move there, it was a total team effort. We don’t rely on just one guy.”
Ryan Geise and Nathan Craft, who combined for 34 points in Liberty-Benton’s district semifinal win against St. Henry, struggled mightily in the first half.
Craft was 0 of 2 from the field and picked up his third foul with 4:56 to play in the second quarter. Geise went 1 of 2 from the free-throw line and only got off one field goal attempt which was deflected at the halftime buzzer.
“When you hold Nathan Craft to two points, you do something special because we really went after him on both ends of the floor,” Kill said. “(Geise)’s a special player. He’s a kid that I knew was a big, instrumental part of their offense and it showed. The reason why they stuck with us is because he’s a big time player and he hit big shots.”
The Eagles came out of the break with a chip on their shoulder and were able to get to the basket with more consistency. Adam Cytlak had a pair of buckets and Geise buried a 3-pointer as Liberty-Benton used a 12-10 third-quarter edge to trim the deficit to 38-31 entering the final period.
Geise nailed three 3-pointers as part of his 12 fourth-quarter points, including one with 3:35 to play that got the Eagles within 45-39.
Simpson knocked home four free throws before Zach Garver’s old-fashioned 3-point play made it 49-42 with 1:33 remaining. Geise’s 3-pointer with 20 seconds left got it to 55-48, but it was too little too late.
“I knew when we beat them back in December, that was going to be the team that we were going to have to face,” Kill said of LCC’s 67-38 victory against the Eagles earlier this season. “I always said that if we wanted to go anywhere, we were going to have to get past them. I knew they were going to be tough to beat.”
Cytlak recorded game-highs of 17 points and six rebounds for Liberty-Benton. Geise finished with 16 points and John Darnall had seven points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals for the Eagles, who shot 42.9 percent (15 of 35) from the field and 35.7 percent (5 of 14) from 3-point range.
While the rebounding margin was only 24-22 in favor of the Thunderbirds, the offensive glass was where the most damage was done. Lima Central Catholic won that battle 10-6 to get key second-chance opportunities that the Eagles could ill afford to give up.
“Their athleticism bothered us, I thought, early in the ballgame,” Williman said. “They have tremendous athleticism. It forces you to run your offense out a little bit farther. I think, at times, it forces you to shoot quick and it forces you to shoot farther away than you normally do.
“I’m proud of our kids. I thought we really battled in the second half. We had nothing left at the end of the ballgame.”
Geise 4-8 4-6 16, Garver 2-5 1-1 5, Craft 1-5 0-0 2, Cytlak 6-12 4-4 17, Darnall 2-5 3-3 7, May 0-0 1-2 1. TOTALS: 15-35 13-16–48.
LIMA CENTRAL CATHOLIC (21-4)
Walton 2-4 2-3 6, Williams 3-5 2-4 8, Simpson 3-6 6-6 12, Kimbrough 5-13 1-4 14, Cobbs 5-9 3-5 14, Taflinger 0-0 0-0 0, E. O’Connor 0-0 0-0 0, A. O’Connor 0-0 0-0 0. Stewart 1-2 0-0 2. TOTALS: 19-39 14-22–56.
Liberty-Benton 6 11 12 17 — 48
Lima Central Catholic 14 14 10 18 — 56
3-Point GOALS: Liberty-Benton 5-14 (Geise 4-7, Garver 0-2, Cytlak 1-2, Darnall 0-3); Lima Central Catholic (Simpson 0-1, Kimbrough 3-5, Cobbs 1-4, Stewart 0-1).
rebounds: Lima Central Catholic 24 (Williams 6, Walton 5); Liberty-Benton 22 (Cytlak 6, Darnall 5). ASSISTS: Lima Central Catholic 12 (Simpson 10); Liberty-Benton 7 (Darnall 3). STEALS: Lima Central Catholic 5 (Cobbs 2); Liberty-Benton 3 (Darnall 2). BLOCKS: Liberty-Benton 2; Lima Central Catholic 1.
TURNOVERS: Liberty-Benton 8, Lima Central Catholic 6. TOTAL FOULS: Liberty-Benton 20, Lima Cemtral Catholic 17. FOULED OUT: None.
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