BOWLING GREEN - Rossford hung right with No. 7-ranked Defiance for half of a Division II boys basketball district semifinal last night at Anderson Arena.
But Defiance (20-2) extended a late second-quarter run into a decisive surge in the third quarter for a 48-41 victory to reach a district final for the first time since 1989.
Defiance's Bulldogs outscored Rossford's Bulldogs 15-1 over an eight-minute stretch to take a 31-18 lead midway through the third quarter. Rossford (14-8) had led 17-16.
Defiance plays Libbey in the final Saturday.
Defiance led 24-18 at the half but instantly expanded that edge to a 13-point lead by scoring the first seven points of the third quarter. Overall, Rossford connected on 13 of 39 from the field (33.3 percent), including 5 of 15 from 3-point range.
"We just couldn't put the ball in the hole tonight," Rossford coach Brian Vorst said. "I thought we came out [for the second half] in good shape. We just missed a couple shots early."
Defiance limited Rossford's leading scorer, senior Zach Leahy, to 13 points. Leahy, who came in averaging 23.3 points per game, made just 4 of 13 from the field and scored just five points over the first three quarters.
Defiance coach Kirk Lehman credited Alex Nofziger for effectively defending Leahy, who also scored 13 points in Defiance's 71-55 win over Rossford earlier this season.
Rossford's Josh Perry tries to get past Defiance's Dace Kime in last night's Division II district semifinal.
"For us to hold that guy to 13 points twice speaks volumes about the type of kids we have and how they play defense because I think he's a very good basketball player," Lehman said.
Rossford senior Tyler Kralovic scored a team-high 14 points (5 of 9 from the field). Leahy said Defiance's "help defense" caused problems.
"It's hard to drive on them, which is usually our forte," Leahy said. "We like to drive it and dish it. We needed to find the holes and we just didn't do that tonight."
Mitchell Stewart, a 6-5 junior, grabbed a game-high eight rebounds for Rossford.
"Our post did a real nice job and battled hard," Vorst said. "They are just big."
Defiance's 6-foot-8 Eric Stapleton had two rebounds, a block and a putback during the pivotal charge. Stapleton finished with 10 points and six rebounds.
"Stapleton changed the game," Lehman said.
Defiance outscored Rossford 14-7 in the third quarter.
Anthony Kidston scored 14 points for Defiance, which also got 11 from Nofziger.
Rossford opened the fourth quarter with four unanswered points to pull within 38-29. But Defiance recovered as Stapleton scored six points inside to make it 44-30 with 2:27 left.
The back-and-forth first half featured five lead changes as neither team was up by more than four points. But Kidston nailed back-to-back 3-pointers in the late stages.
Rossford went up 12-8 when Leahy banked in a 3-pointer and James Taylor then nailed Rossford's third 3-pointer of the first half for a 17-13 lead with six minutes left. Defiance however closed the half with a 7-1 run.
"Our kids showed a lot of character. I couldn't ask for more from them," Vorst said.
Lehman previously coached at Rossford before stepping down in 1997. He returned to his alma mater, Defiance, in 2003. Libbey knocked Defiance out of the postseason last year.
"We'll have to bring our A game," Lehman said. "We'll have to do a great job on the boards and we have to stop penetration, which is what we did against Rossford tonight."