BY SCOTT HUNT – firstname.lastname@example.org
MIER — Southwood’s boys basketball team employed a little different strategy during its sectional semifinal game with Oak Hill than it used during the matchup in the regular season.
To say it paid dividends would be an understatement.
After trying to play its uptempo style and extending its halfcourt defense in the Jan. 10 game that resulted in an 83-61 win for Oak Hill on the Knights’ home court, No. 8 Southwood played more patient on offense and packed in its zone a little tighter and escaped on the No. 3 Golden Eagles’ home court with a 60-52 upset in the sectional 37 semifinal game.
The Knights (20-4) move into tonight’s championship game against Wabash County rival Manchester (8-16), who had little problem handling Rochester, 59-36 in the first semifinal.
“It was just a different philosophy on defense and on offense,” said Southwood coach John Burrus. “Making (Oak Hill) have to value every possession. There were times where they had to really work hard to get a shot and that’s a credit to our kids and our defense.”
“Our gameplan was we were going to be smart on offense and really try to match up in our zone,” he continued. “But stay at home – stay in and not get out of position by trying to put on too much pressure.”
It was a battle befitting of two top-10 ranked Class 2A teams from the start in front of a packed house at Oak Hill, and Southwood’s crowd was energized late in the first quarter when sophomore Dallas Holmes drained a pair of 3-pointers and sparked a 10-4 Knights’ run in the final two minutes to put his team on 14-9 after one.
“We wanted to run clock there at the start and maybe get them out of sorts,” said Southwood’s Carson Blair on the Knights’ offensive strategy. “Once we got the rhythm going we could attack more.”
And Holmes was simply sensational in the opening half, as he scored the Knights’ first seven points of the second quarter, including another triple with just over three minutes to play and Southwood went up 25-18 with two minutes remaining. Holmes scored all 13 of his points on 5-of-9 shooting in the opening 16 minutes, and made all three Southwood 3-pointers.
“He was huge,” Blair said of Holmes. “He’s been playing great this whole sectional.”
But Spencer Ballinger was Holmes’ equal in the first half and he needed to be to keep Oak Hill within striking distance. Ballinger scored 13 of his game-high 18 and knocked down a long two-point shot after a Southwood turnover to bring the Golden Eagles within 25-23 at the half.
“I felt like we were awfully tentative in the first half, “ said Oak Hill coach Kevin Renbarger. “We were back on our heels a little bit more so than up on our toes. We didn’t get off to the start we needed to and Southwood did. They jumped on us and you could see their confidence growing.”
After leading only once, at 5-4 in the opening half, Caleb Middlesworth splashed home a corner three and assisted on a Ballinger deuce to put the Golden Eagles in front 28-27 just over three minutes into the second half, but those would be Oak Hill’s final points of the quarter and the Knights closed on a 9-0 run to take a 36-28 lead into the final eight minutes.
Southwood extended its lead to 44-34 with 4:28 to play after a three by Blair and a deuce by Matthew Nose, but after making only two 3-pointers in the first three quarters the Golden Eagles hit six in the fourth quarter to come charging back.
Tyce Frank connected on one, and it was followed by a David Arens steal and basket to bring Oak Hill within 49-45 with 2:43 to play.
Southwood got a steal and basket by Peyton Trexler and a bucket by Nose to extend back to eight before Frank completed a four-point play after hitting a triple and drawing a foul with 1:52 remaining.
Oak Hill forced a turnover on Southwood’s next trip up the floor and Arens converted it into points with a corner three and Oak Hill was within, 53-52 with 1:15 to play.
But those would be Oak Hill’s last points and the Knights would close the game with a 7-0 run on a Nose field goal and 4-of-4 free throw shooting from Blair and another charity toss from Trexler.
“We made a couple of pretty crucial mistakes and decisions that cost us the opportunity win the basketball game,” Renbarger said.
Blair scored 12 of his 16 points in the second half to lead Southwood while Nose added 15 and Trexler 11. Holmes finished with 12 rebounds to go with his 13 points.
Frank finished with 14 points, five assists, five rebounds and two steals and Middlesworth added 12 points and seven rebounds. Ballinger led Oak Hill by collecting 12 boards.