By DAVE HANNEMAN
BOWLING GREEN — Ottawa Hills’ 55-45 victory over Liberty-Benton on Wednesday wasn’t the Green Bears’ prettiest win of the season.
But it may have been their gutsiest.
“Defense is what got us here, and defense is what’s getting us to the next round,” Ottawa Hills coach John Lindsay said after the Green Bears beat back one challenge after another and backed up its regular-season win over L-B with a Division III regional semifinal win at Bowling Green State University.
Ottawa Hill, 22-3, will face No. 1-ranked Lima Central Catholic (25-1) in Saturday’s Division III regional final at the Stroh Center.
Liberty-Benton’s season ended with a 19-7 record but no regrets.
“I’m very proud of what this team accomplished this year,” said L-B coach Ben Gerken.”I don’t know how many people would have put us in a position where we would be playing in the regional. It’s been nine years since we got here, but I couldn’t be prouder of the effort these kids gave this year.
“This validates all the things we do in our program, the hard work, the dedication, the preparation, the off-season work our players do … This validates all of that.”
Liberty-Benton led only once in the game, after Austin May drilled a 3-pointer and Anthony Masterlasco put back an offensive rebound to put the Eagles up 12-9 late in the first quarter.
Six-foot-five junior Peter Roman converted an offensive rebound of his own the other end, though, Logan Crider hit a 3-pointer to complete the first-quarter scoring, and Liberty-Benton played catch-up the rest of the night.
“When we got behind, we wanted to increase the tempo,” Gerken said. “But (Ottawa Hills) was very patient. They were taking a minute off the clock .
“For us to be able to get back in the game, we had to make some plays. But we just weren’t able to make enough tonight.”
The Eagles tried. Time after time.
Nathan Craft’s free throw and Masterlasco’s driving bank shot trimmed the deficit to 19-15 midway through the second quarter. Craft’s jumper in the lane made it a 23-18 game at the half.
After Ottawa Hills went up 33-22 on back-to-back 3-pointers by Michael Denner and Crider, Masterlasco and Craft answered with threes during a 7-0 Liberty-Benton run that cut the Bears’ lead to 37-31.
After Ottawa Hills surged again in the fourth quarter, Masterlasco and Spencer Osborne nailed 3-pointers to make it a 7-point deficit — 50-43 — with just under two minutes left.
Ottawa Hills then left the door open by missing the front end of two one-and-one opportunities and converting just 2 of 6 foul shots during one 37-second span.
L-B failed to connect on the offensive end though, as the final seconds ticked away.
Masterlasco, a 6-4 junior, finished with 20 points and seven rebounds. Craft had 12 points and six board in his final game for L-B.
“All year we’ve almost always had a pretty good height advantage, so our main point has been to get it inside, and if it’s not there kick it out for a three,” said Craft, a 6-6 senior.
“When they had (Hunter) Sieben on me I had a 3-inch advantage, so our main focus was to get it inside to me or Nate,” said Masterlasco.
Liberty-Benton’s plan worked fairly well early in the game. But Ottawa Hills adjusted and amped up its defense.
“Masterlasco is so darn good getting in the paint,” Lindsay said. “I thought in the second half we did a better job of squeezing and cutting off those driving lanes.”
Sieben, Ottawa Hills’ first-team all-Northwest Ohio guard, shouldered most of the Bears’ offense early on. The 6-1 junior scored 8 of Ottawa Hills’ first 9 points and had 12 in the first half.
Sieben was 6 of 13 from the field at the half. The rest of the Green Bears were a combined 4 for 12, although Brett Hoffman’s 3-pointer to open the second quarter and offensive rebound put backs by Sieben and Denner loomed large in the overall scheme of things.
Despite L-B’s size inside, Ottawa Hills had a 10-6 edge in the paint and 9-3 advantage in second-chance points in the first half. Ottawa Hills ended up outrebounding L-B 33-24.
“We knew they were a big team so we had to come out and crash the boards, try to get to all the loose balls and try to get a stop on every possession,” Sieben said after scoring 19 points. “We knew we couldn’t give them second chances.”
Masterlasco 7-4–20, Craft 4-3–12, May 3-0–7, Osborne 1-4–6, Hendel 0-0–0, Schimmoeller 0-0–0, Lenhart 0-0–0, Tinman 0-0–0, Greer 0-0–0, Stump 0-0–0, Loughman 0-0–0, Frankart 0-0–0. TOTALS: 15-42 11-15 — 45.
OTTAWA HILLS (22-3)
Sieben 8-3–19, Roman 4-2–10, Hoffman 2-3–8, Crider 2-1–7, Robinson 3-0–6, Denner 2-0–5, Halgren 0-0–0, Adduci 0-0–0. TOTALS: 21-45 9-16 — 55.
Liberty-Benton 12 6 13 14 — 45
Ottawa Hills 14 9 14 18 — 55
3-POINT GOALS: Liberty-Benton 4-17 (Masterlasco 2, May & Craft 1); Ottawa Hills 4-9 (Crider 2, Denner & Hoffman 1).
REBOUNDS: Liberty-Benton 24 (Masterlasco 7, Craft 6); Ottawa Hills 33 (Crider 6).
TURNOVERS: Liberty-Benton 9, Ottawa Hills 7.
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