By BRANDON SHRIDER
BLUFFTON — Saturday’s Division III girls basketball semifinal doubleheader featured polar opposites from the opener to the nightcap.
But there was no quit in either game.
Top-seeded Liberty-Benton opened with a 30-point quarter and followed up that pace by matching its season-high second-quarter total with a 29-point frame in blitzing No. 11 seed Tinora 77-32 in the opener.
Patrick Henry marched back from an early 14-point deficit to make the final seconds matter, but the Patriots’ comeback fell short with a 42-38 loss to higher-seeded Coldwater.
“They were bigger than us, stronger than us and faster than us at every position,” Tinora coach Kyle Tietje said of L-B’s pressure. “They were beating us to spots, they were beating us to passes. There’s not a lot of places to throw the basketball when they can cover you that well. It’s like they have seven kids out on the floor.”
L-B improved to 23-1 overall and will play Coldwater (12-11) in a Division III district semifinal at 8 p.m. Thursday at Elida High School. Tinora ended its season at 9-13 and Patrick Henry dropped to 11-12.
The Eagles’ pressure begins with 5-foot-5 junior guard Alissa Rhodes.
As she has for much of the season, Rhodes stymied Tinora’s primary ball-handler in Aayliyah Hurtt (1 point) and created a pair of early turnovers — the latter forcing a jump ball and giving L-B possession. The Rams’ space to work was almost nonexistent, while team defensive rotations and active hands made simple passes seem impossible.
“There’s been a lot of games this year where she’s been our so-called MVP and it kind of goes unnoticed,” said L-B coach Nate Irwin, who recently became the winningest girls basketball coach in program history. “And we often put her on the best point guard for the other team just because she can hound them. And she did that exactly tonight — she’s been doing it all year long. She’s a big part of this team whether she’s the leading scorer or not.”
L-B turned an early 2-1 lead into a 30-3 first-quarter lead in a matter of minutes and kept pace in the next frame for a 59-9 halftime lead.
Rhodes helped force 26 turnovers — 22 in the first half — finishing with a game-high five steals. She knocked down one of the team’s record-tying 12 3-pointers and finished with four points.
The 12 made triples was the ninth such time this season that L-B has made at least 10 threes, tying the 2005-06 Eastwood team for a state record. The number also pushed the Eagles up to 206 made threes for the season, making them one of 16 schools to eclipse 200 in a season. Senior sharpshooter Sammy Shardo paced L-B with five threes and 15 points.
Rhodes’ classmate Caitlin Elseser had a milestone of her own, dominating the game at the other end.
With 1:56 left in the first half, the 6-3 junior collected an entry pass from Savanah Richards — the reigning back-to-back Blanchard Valley Conference player of the year — turned and bounced a bucket off the backboard for her 18th and 19th points of the game. The crowd erupted and the L-B bench saluted the tallest player on the floor.
Elseser, who finished with 21 points, eight rebounds and a pair of blocks, reached 1,000 career points on the layup.
“I was just so grateful to see everyone standing up,” she said. “I’m just really excited to keep going through this tournament journey with my teammates and coaches.”
Irwin was not as modest when talking about Elseser.
“She’s a tough matchup and when you surround her with the shooters that we have and the athletes that can get to the rim, it makes her really hard to guard. And Caitlin’s unselfish. She’s gonna get her points, but at the same time, when teams double-team, she’s willing to give that up,” he said.
Richards, who scored 13 and led with six assists, and the rest of the Eagles’ starters came out midway through the third quarter and did not return.
In the nightcap, across the first 12 minutes of the second game, Patrick Henry had scored just five points. Coldwater hit a pair of triples, converted turnovers into layups and could not miss at the foul line as Kate Leichty’s (nine points) left-corner 3 pushed its lead to 19-5.
Patrick Henry found shots, but rarely did they find nylon.
“I think we were four for “¦ I mean it was awful in the first half. But we were getting good shots,” PH coach Lisa Frania said. “It’s one thing if we get in that locker room and we have to change what we’re doing. But we just had to put the ball in the basket.”
Trista Fintel’s finish through contact at the end of the third quarter brought the score to 29-20, the Patriots’ first single-digit deficit since the opening moments of the second quarter.
Kayla Prigge, who finished with a team-high 11 points, opened the fourth with a triple atop the arc to bring PH within six and prompt a Coldwater timeout.
Rachel Nickels’s right-corner 3-pointer — which hit nothing but net — with 1:16 to play cut the score to 37-32.
But the Cavaliers converted five of their game-high 18 free throws down the stretch and held on for a 42-38 win.
“They have this no give-up attitude and we have been in games just like that and they make these big turns,” Frania said.
“I felt like we did a good job containing them for the most part but we just couldn’t capitalize on it.”
Lauren Gilliland, Coldwater’s 6-foot junior post, scored 14 points with 14 rebounds, including 12 of 18 from the free-throw line.
Grieser 5-7–17, Ackerman 1-1–4, Brown 1-0–3, Henry 1-0–3, Horn 1-0–2, Wachtman 1-0–2, Hurtt 0-1–1. TOTALS: 10-31 9-13 — 32.
C. Elseser 8-5–21, Shardo 5-0–15, Richards 6-1–14, Aschemeier 3-0–7, Reynolds 2-0–6, Rhodes 1-1–4, Ward 1-0–3, Hatch 1-0–3, Granger 1-0–2, Deeter 1-0–2, Shepherd 0-0–0, Kin 0-0–0, S. Elseser 0-0–0, Smith 0-0–0. TOTALS: 29-53 7-11 — 77.
Tinora 3 6 10 13 — 32
Liberty-Benton 30 29 11 7 — 77
3-POINT GOALS: Tinora 3 (Ackerman, Brown & Henry 1); Liberty-Benton 12 (Shardo 5, Reynolds 2, Richards, Rhodes, Ward, Hatch & Aschemeier 1).
REBOUNDS: Tinora 19 (Ackerman 4); Liberty-Benton 25 (C. Elseser 8).
TURNOVERS: Tinora 26, Liberty-Benton 4.
PATRICK HENRY (11-12)
Prigge 5-0–11, Thompson 3-1–8, Nickels 2-1–6, Vance 2-1–5, Fintel 2-0–4, Sonnenberg 0-2–2, Nelson 1-0–2, Seedorf 0-0–0, Bostelman 0-0–0. TOTALS: 15 5-18 — 38.
Gilliland 1-12–14, Leichty 2-3–9, A. May 3-1–9, Harlamert 2-2–6, Siefring 1-0–2, Steinke 1-0–2, C. May 0-0–0. TOTALS: 10 18-27 — 42.
Patrick Henry 5 5 10 18 — 32
Coldwater 12 9 8 13 — 42
3-POINT GOALS: Patrick Henry 3 (Prigge, Thompson & Nickels 1); Coldwater 4 (Leichty & A. May 2).
REBOUNDS: Patrick Henry 29 (Prigge 7); Coldwater 30 (Gilliland 14).
TURNOVERS: Patrick Henry 9, Coldwater 13.