By MICHAEL BURWELL
OTTOVILLE — Liberty-Benton coach Nate Irwin thought the Eagles’ nonleague matchup against Ottoville on Tuesday was a lot like L-B’s nonleague game against Ottawa-Glandorf on Dec. 30.
The main difference? The outcome.
Although it made just two field goals and scored only eight points in the fourth quarter, L-B made enough plays and hit enough free throws down the stretch to hold off the Big Green 56-51 in a game featuring two state-ranked girls basketball teams.
“We had a game a lot like that at Christmas time against O-G, another great team in our northwest Ohio area. We didn’t execute, maybe as poorly as we executed at times tonight, it was even worse back in December when we played O-G,” Irwin said of the 58-53 loss to O-G in December, a game in which the Titans outscored L-B 27-16 in the fourth quarter.
“This is a great game this time of the year heading into the tournament: nonleague game, neither team has anything to lose . . . Some of the mistakes we made back in December, we cleaned up today.”
L-B (20-1), ranked No. 7 in the latest Division III Associated Press poll, won its 11th straight game, while Ottoville, ranked No. 2 in Division IV, finished its regular season at 20-2.
Savanah Richards came up big once again for the Eagles.
L-B’s 5-foot-7 junior guard led the Eagles with game-highs of 20 points, eight assists and four steals while also notching a team-high six rebounds.
She scored or assisted on all 18 of L-B’s second quarter points in which the Eagles used an 18-9 advantage to take a 31-20 halftime lead. She scored or assisted on 13 of the Eagles’ 17 points in the third quarter.
“Savanah’s a great player. She’s physically and mentally tough,” Irwin said. “In these games like this, she doesn’t back away from the pressure and she made big play after big play for us, whether it was her hitting a shot, making a move and getting to the rim or creating things for her teammates.
“She leads us in assists, too, and scoring. She’s an unselfish player, she does a good job of making the right read.”
Richards found Alissa Rhodes for a 3-pointer with 1:18 left in the second quarter to push L-B’s lead to 25-20. A pair of 3-pointers by Alexa Lenhart in the final 51 seconds extended the Eagles’ lead to 11.
“We were trying to help too much, we didn’t keep our defensive assignments and they got a couple three’s,” Ottoville coach Dave Kleman said. “We didn’t execute very well on those and they made them.
“They punish you on that one, and they had a couple there in the second half, same thing. We didn’t adhere to our defensive principles that we wanted for this game, and it cost us.”
L-B led 48-41 after three quarters and extended it to 51-41 with seven minutes left.
Ottoville didn’t go away easily.
Ottoville’s Amber Miller scored a pair of buckets in the paint off passes from C.J. Kemper and Haley Hoersten to trim L-B’s lead to six. Hoersten had a bucket and Kemper scored four straight points to cut it to 53-51 with 2:30 left.
“Give Ottoville credit, they’re a great team for a reason, won a lot of games,” Irwin said. “They weren’t going to make it easy, and they didn’t tonight either.”
Ottoville forced a turnover with 58 seconds left, but on the ensuing possession, Richards contested Kasey Knippen’s jumper and grabbed the rebound.
Caitlin Elseser, L-B’s 6-3 sophomore post player, was saddled with foul trouble throughout the game. She managed to knock down both ends of a 1-and-1 free-throw opportunity to extend the Eagles’ lead to 55-51 with 34 seconds left. Schy Shepherd, who scored 10 of her 14 points in the second half, added a free throw with two seconds left to give L-B the five-point cushion.
Ottoville had several chances to score in the final 30 seconds, but couldn’t convert.
“We want to schedule good teams, and this was a really good tune-up for the tournament,” Kleman said. “Win or lose, we didn’t make the shots at the end that I would have liked, but we got the shots I wanted, and I was happy that we had the courage to take the shot.”
Kemper, one of five seniors for the Big Green, scored a team-high 15 points while University of Findlay signee Bridget Landin added 13 points, including eight in the third quarter, and nine rebounds.
Knippen, a junior guard, scored 10 of her 14 points in the third quarter, including back-to-back 3-pointers.
L-B shot 51 percent (21 of 41), including 60 percent (6 of 10) from 3-point range. Ottoville shot 40 percent (19 of 48) but was just 13 percent (2 of 16) from 3-point range.
Richards 8-3–20, Shepherd 6-1–14, Elseser 2-4–8, Lenhart 2-0–6, Shardo 2-0–5, Rhodes 1-0–3, Aschemeier 0-0–0, Reynolds 0-0–0, Peplinski 0-0–0. TOTALS: 21-41 8-12 — 56.
Kemper 6-3–15, Knippen 4-4–14, B. Landin 5-3–13, Miller 3-1–7, Hoersten 1-0–2, Hanneman 0-0–0, Schlagbaum 0-0–0, E. Landin 0-0–0, Hilvers 0-0–0. TOTALS: 19-48 11-18 — 51.
Liberty-Benton 13 18 17 8 — 56
Ottoville 11 9 21 10 — 51
3-Point GOALS: Liberty-Benton 6-10 (Lenhart 2, Richards, Shepherd, Shardo & Rhodes 1); Ottoville 2-16 (Knippen 2).
rebounds: Liberty-Benton 31 (Richards 6); Ottoville 24 (B. Landin 9).
turnovers: Liberty-Benton 16, Ottoville 8.
junior varsity: Ottoville, 35-32.
By MICHAEL BURWELL