By BRANDON SHRIDER
BOWLING GREEN — Liberty-Benton’s season ended earlier than it would have liked.
But the Eagles’ season went deeper into March than it had since 2007.
“Expectations have been state,” said senior Blanchard Valley Conference Player of the Year Nathan Craft. “That’s what we work for every year.”
L-B had only reached a district final two times in the past nine years, losing both, each to Lima Central Catholic, the Eagles’ would-have-been regional final opponent. And they felt they had as good a chance as any to get there.
“We weren’t just happy to be here. We wanted to continue on and we thought we had a good shot,” L-B head coach Ben Gerken said of his team’s regional final appearance and 19-7 record.
But a nine-year drought from the regional stage in Bowling Green was enough to make this appearance that much sweeter.
“It’s been nine years in our program since we’ve been here and I couldn’t be more proud of the effort that the kids gave all year long,” Gerken said.
“One of our main goals was to get a district championship and play in BG,” said junior and all-BVC first-team selection Anthony Masterlasco, who finished with a game-highs of 19 points and seven rebounds.
“We’ve been talking about it all week ” but we really wanted to go a little bit further.”
The process started in during the offseason when the team outlined its goals for the season. And it accomplished most of them.
“First it was the BVC championship, to win the league,” said Craft, who finished with 12 points and six rebounds.
“And since I’ve been in this program it’s always been district championships, regionals.”
But with two BVC teams scoring more points during the season and six allowing fewer points than the Eagles, thinking a BVC title and trip to regionals was nonsense to outsiders.
Not for Liberty-Benton.
“I’m very proud of the things our team has accomplished this year. I don’t know how many people would have put us in a situation where we’re playing in a regional game,” Gerken said of his BVC and district titles.
“It validates all the things that we do in our program. The hard work, the dedication, the preparation that our players do, the offseason work. Those are the things that will give a taste for our younger guys to get better, but it’s also a validation that we did get better as the season went on.”
Despite the premature ending, at least in the minds of those in the locker room, there is plenty to take away from such a successful season.
Among those is the family that formed in that same locker room.
“We’ve come together this year, this year ” it’s like a family. That’s something that got us here,” Craft said.
“Whenever we’re down we’re picking each other up — that helped a lot.”
Coach Gerken saw that same growth as a unit.
“As the year went on I think we not only grew, improved our skills, but we played better as a team,” he said.
And when the players return to the Liberty-Benton High School gym, whether it be next season, or other reasons down the road, that’s when the meaning of this 2016 season will finally hit home.
“This is a family. I’m just excited to know that one day when I come back here and look at the wall I’ll know that number right there, 2016, was me,” Masterlasco said.