FOSTORIA - No. 1-ranked Liberty-Benton advanced to a Division III district final last night, but not without a fight from a feisty New London team. The Eagles prevailed 68-54 and will play Collins Western Reserve here Saturday for the title.
Liberty Benton senior forward Nathan Hyde poured in a game-high 29 points. He scored 12 of his team's 13 points in the third quarter when the Eagles had fallen behind by one point.
"I've been lucky this year because I haven't had to carry the burden, scoring-wise," Hyde said. "But we were struggling to get open looks, so I decided to take over the game. This is my senior year and I decided I wasn't ready to lose."
But New London closed within three points with 2:49 left. The Eagles responded with a 9-0 run and ended the game with a 16-5 spurt.
Liberty-Benton freshman Aaron Craft, who finished with 11 points, had three key rebounds and scored seven rebounds over the final three minutes.
"We battled hard," Liberty-Benton coach Steve Williman said. "We made big plays and got big rebounds down the stretch."
The Eagles looked like the best team in the state when they jumped out to an 11-0 lead to start the game. But the Wildcats closed the quarter with a 16-2 run.
"They're a very good basketball team and we knew they would go toe to toe with us," Williman said.
The Eagles made 22-of-24 free throws, including five from Hyde.
"At times he has strapped us on his back and carried us," Williman said. "He's never afraid to take the big shot. That's what you want from your best player."
Senior guard T.J. Recker also scored 11 points, including two 3-pointers for Liberty-Benton.
Troy Coombs paced New London with 23 points.
"It's about surviving now," Williman said. "No one asks how you won or by how many."
- Mark Monroe