A poised Liberty-Benton girls basketball team never panicked in their Division III district final which featured runs by both the Eagles and a scrappy Elmwood team.
Liberty-Benton trailed by as many as 11 points in the second quarter. But the Eagles responded with rallies of their own in the second half to outlast the Royals 49-41 at Central Catholic on Saturday.
Liberty-Benton (20-5) has won four district titles in the last five seasons.
“It's not an old feeling and you don't get used to it,” said L-B coach Nate Irwin. “We don't take it for granted. Each year is always special. Our girls came out and played well enough to win and advance.”
Sophomore Katie Simon scored a game-high 17 points, while junior Rachel Myers tallied 14 as the Eagles advance to the regional semifinals Tuesday at Ohio Northern.
The Eagles led by two with 2:14 left. But Myers drilled a huge 3-pointer for a 43-38 lead with 1:44 remaining.
“Our team passed the ball around really well and I just happened to be open in the corner,” Myers said. “It felt really good hitting it. It gave us a cushion.”
The 3-pointer sparked a 7-0 spurt that put the game away as Simon and Nicolette Devincentis each knocked down two free throws in the final minute.
“We didn't want [Friday's] practice to be the last one. We worked hard for it,” Simon said. “The game wasn't over in the first quarter. We knew we still had time. We stepped up and made big shots.”
Irwin said his young team, with just two seniors, has been in similar situations this season.
“These girls have grown up a lot,” he said. “They showed some great signs today.”
Brittany Gross led Elmwood with 16 points, while Brittany George added 11, and Kristen Curtis 10.
Elmwood, which reached the district final for only the third time in school history, bows out at 21-4.
“I'm proud of the kids,” Elmwood coach Doug Reynolds said. “I don't think anyone thought we'd have this kind of record. The kids just kept working hard. If we hit a few more shots, get a couple breaks and they miss a couple, that game is nip and tuck. It was a great game.”
Liberty-Benton trailed by one at the half but opened the third quarter with a 10-4 run to take a 31-26 lead with 3:39 left. The Eagles opened a six-point lead going into the fourth quarter by outscoring the Royals 14-7 in the third.
After Elmwood drew back to within four points, L-B went on a quick 5-0 spurt capped by Lauren Kotey's three-point play.
“That was a big momentum winger,” Irwin said.
Elmwood battled back with a 7-0 run to make it 40-38 with 2:14 remaining.
Gross, who had nine rebounds, had a key putback. But L-B had the final spurt to put it away.
The Royals finished with a 26-24 advantage on the boards. Liberty-Benton turned the ball over 10 times, while the Royals had 11 turnovers.
The first half featured runs by each team. Elmwood took a 16-9 lead with a 7-2 spurt to end the first quarter as Gross started the run with a 3.
The Royals opened up an 11-point lead on Gross' 3-pointer 2:05 into the second quarter. Curtis also hit a 3 during a 6-0 spurt.
“Elmwood came out with a great game plan,” Irwin said. “They hit some big shots early on and got out to a big lead. I told the girls we can't panic. It's a long basketball game. Then in the third quarter we made a run to get the lead. The tide turned for us.”
Liberty-Benton ended the quarter with a 10-0 run to close to within one, 22-21, going into halftime.
Elmwood missed five shots and turned the ball over three times during the Eagles' run. Four of the Royals seven field goals in the first half were from 3-point range.
“Every team has to survive each game,” Myers said. “We played hard. It started out rough but we stuck with it and it worked out for us. When they go on a run, you can't panic. You have to make stops.”