COVINGTON — Bethel pulled within six points of Anna late in the second quarter of a Division III sectional semifinal at Covington on Thursday. If the Rockets needed that early jolt to get going, it paid off.
Anna scored the last eight points of the second quarter and then kept scoring at the same pace in the second half to pull away from Bethel to a 52-20 win.
“We were getting good shots and our offense was working, but they just weren’t falling (early),” Anna coach Jeff Maurer said. “I told them at halftime to keep being patient and keep with it on the offensive end, and those shots will start falling.”
The win puts the Rockets (18-6) in a sectional final next Tuesday against Preble Shawnee, which beat Greenon 51-33 in the second semifinal on Thursday at Covington.
Preble Shawnee (18-5) beat Anna by seven points in a sectional semifinal last year.
“We’ve been playing really good, and if we can keep this up, I think we can go really far,” Anna senior Jada Rowland said. “Just have to keep playing defense and playing good.”
Like Thursday’s game, Anna’s season didn’t start as fast as it would have liked. But after dropping to 7-6 with a loss at Fort Loramie on Jan. 11, the Rockets gained steam and have won 11 straight.
Senior guard Macey Huelskamp has had big performances during that stretch, but Maurer said the reason for the turnaround is defensive improvement by everyone on the team.
“It would have been easy for girls to start pointing fingers and start going the opposite way,” Maurer said of the 7-6 start. “They all hung together. We’ve got a lot of girls that are happy to play their role. Not all of them play four quarters and not all of them score the points, but we need those role players to come in and give us those minutes.
“Those are the little things people don’t see on the score sheet, but a lot of times, those are the differences in making a tournament run.”
Huelskamp led Anna with 19 points while Rowland scored 11. Six other players scored for the Rockets, which used a big team rebounding effort to get second- and third-chance scoring opportunities throughout the game.
Rowland, a 6-foot-1 forward, helped lead Anna’s rebounding efforts. Bethel has three players on its roster 6-1 and taller, but they nor any of the Bees could stop Anna from rebounding well.
The Rockets have plenty of experience against good post players, including Botkins senior Sarah Bergman (6-1), Russia junior Laurissa Poling (6-0), Jackson Center senior Olivia Clark (6-2) and Versailles’ combo of senior Danielle Winner (6-2) and sophomore Lindsey Winner (6-2).
“Having girls to go against in the season that are good helps you out a lot and makes you better,” Rowland said.
Maurer, who’s in his first year at the helm of Anna, said a strong schedule has helped the team improve. Anna is one of five Shelby County Athletic League teams that will be playing in sectional finals, and the Rockets played the likes of Versailles, West Liberty-Salem and Miami East in nonconference games.
“Our league is known for our defense,” Maurer said. “Early on, we had some struggles this season, but those tests and those hard-fought games and losses against Shelby County competition and good MAC schools prepares us for tournament.”
Liv Reittinger made a pair of free throws to pull Bethel within 16-10 with 2:39 left in the second quarter, but Anna finished on an 8-0 run. Rowland scored a pair of 3-pointers during the run to help the Rockets take a 24-10 halftime lead.
Huelskamp scored nine points in the third to help lead a 14-4 scoring advantage. Anna closed out the win with a 14-6 advantage in the fourth quarter, with six points coming from junior guard Taylor Kauffman.
“I’m proud of the girls for the way they responded in a tournament environment,” Anna coach Jeff Maurer said. “… We just weren’t hitting much (early), but I told the girls the shooting will happen, they just have to keep putting up shots. You’re going to have stretches in the game where you’re going to miss some shots.”
The Rockets will now try to make their first district final appearance in three years on Tuesday against Preble Shawnee. The Arrows finished second in the Southwestern Buckeye League Buckeye Division.
“They’re a good team,” Maurer said. “They knocked our girls out of the tournament last year. They’ve got just about everybody back from that team that knocked us out last year, and we’ve got just about everybody back.
“They’re very guard-oriented, and that’s going to be a challenge for us to defend and keep them in front of us without getting to the basket. They like to penetrate and kick to open shooters, and we just need to keep them out of our gut.”
The Rockets could be boosted in the sectional final by the return of freshman point guard Ella Doseck. Doseck has missed Anna’s first two tournament games after suffering a kitchen accident that required several stiches on one of her legs.
“She got the stitches out (Thursday) morning,” Maurer said. “She hasn’t done anything on that other than walk through the hallways at school. Obviously we’d like to have Ella back, but we’ve got some girls that are doing a good job in her absence.
“Ella is itching to get back at it, but we keep telling her to get healthy and worry about her knee, because we don’t want to do any long-term damage to it.”
Tuesday’s sectional final will tip off at 7:30 p.m.