DAYTON — Purcell Marian brought a style of play Anna had come close to seeing this year only in a preseason scrimmage with Sidney and Springfield. The Cavaliers moved the ball with up and down the court and in and around Anna defenders throughout a Division III district final on Tuesday.
And though Anna was able to keep up for awhile at the free-throw line, they couldn’t keep up in the final 12 minutes.
After the Rockets pulled within six points late in the third quarter, Purcell Marian scored the next seven points to spark a 78-65 win. Anna, which had won its eight previous games, finishes with a 21-5 overall record.
“It was like an AAU game out there,” Anna senior guard Wyatt Bensman said. “I feel like we just weren’t as well-prepared for that quickness and speed. Some of our guys hadn’t played that type of basketball. We’ve played a little bit, but nothing that quick.
“They’re a great team, and they finished well around the hoop. We’d be there with both our hands up, and they’d just put it in.”
Anna scrimmaged Sidney and Springfield — which played in a one-point Div. I sectional final last Friday — in November. Anna coach Nate Barhorst said Springfield was the closest in terms of speed that Anna had seen.
“It’s very hard to guard five quick guys like they are,” Barhorst said. “We thought if we packed it in and really helped off the drive, it would help us out tonight. It did from time to time, but they hit some key shots and had some guys dump down with passes that really got them going.
“… Springfield was the most comparable, and we just drilled, drilled, drilled that in their heads. At times, it looked like they might distribute it even a little bit better too.”
Anna was able to take the defensive pressure as far as ball handling, but it was bothersome while shooting and fighting for offensive rebounds. The Rockets shot 17 for 43 (39.5 percent) from the field and had nine offensive rebounds while Purcell Marian (21-6) gathered 23 defensive rebounds.
Anna was able to capitalize on 26 Purcell Marian fouls by making 28-of-38 free-throw attempts.
“We knew they were a tough defensive team, and we knew we had to attack and get to the line as many times as we did,” Barhorst said. “We did that to keep it within striking distance before it really got out of control.”
The Cavaliers led by 11 points at halftime, but Anna scored the first four points of the third. Wyatt Bensman then hit a basket, two free throws, and a 3-pointer from the left wing in a minute and a half span to cap off a 14-9 run and pull Anna within 46-40 with 3:18 left in the third.
Purcell Marian, though, responded with a 7-0 run and led by double digits for the rest of the game. The Cavaliers pushed their lead to 56-43 by the end of the third quarter and then started the first four minutes of the fourth on an 11-7 run.
“Every time it seemed like we were making a run… they’d all of a sudden push it back up to 11 or 12,” Barhorst said. “We could just never get it down to that score where it felt like ‘Okay, here’s our run, here’s our push.’ Hats off to them for responding every time we did. They’ve got about 10 guys they can rotate in, and it just seemed they never let up.”
The game was an emotional triumph for the Cavaliers according to coach Scott Kerr.
Purcell Marian student Greg Thompson was shot and killed last Friday night. Some team members were informed of the death during their sectional final game last Friday, and Kerr said the team didn’t practice on Saturday while dealing with the blow.
Kerr said many team members were friends with Thompson, including junior AJ Garrett, who led the Cavaliers on Tuesday with 23 points and six rebounds.
“It’s been a tough weekend, man,” Kerr said. “And not for me… but for these dudes to have to grow up through that and go through that. And the way they found out with Greg — AJ’s went to school with the kid since kindergarten, and he’s got people running up to the baseline telling him. We can’t even go to the locker room to talk about it.
“For them to be able to come back and focus, with our bus showing up two hours late (today) and them scrambling to get here on time, says a lot. We always say the toughest team always wins, and I don’t want to take anything away from Anna, because they’re a hell of a basketball team, and I feel for them. But we talk that tough’s not physically strong, but tough’s mentally strong. They have mental toughness.”
Bensman and Griffin Doseck each led Anna with 15 points while Joel Cathcart scored 12. Bart Bixler finished with nine. Doseck led the Rockets with seven rebounds while Bensman had five and a team-high three assists.
Kerr said while many around the Purcell Marian community were unfamiliar with Anna, he knew the Rockets would be tough.
“(Bensman) is a heck of a competitor — how’d you like to coach a guy like that on your team?” Kerr said. “Those are just unbelievable guys, and that team is a regional team. Seeding is what it is, but that team is a regional team. …Those guys are just extremely well-coached. I hate that they had to lose because they’re just a heck of a team.”
Purcell Marian used a 9-4 early run to take an 11-5 lead. Bensman hit a basket with 2:46 left in the first to bring Anna within 13-8, but Bryan Warah hit a basket and free throw eight seconds later to put the Cavaliers up by eight. Purcell Marian led 18-10 at the end of the first quarter.
Purcell Marian pushed its lead as high at 27-13 early in the second but quickly picked up seven fouls to go in the bonus. They then picked up their seventh foul with 3:22 left to put Anna in the double bonus.
The Rockets took advantage. Bensman and Griffin Doseck combined to hit six consecutive foul shots to bring Anna within 29-22 with 2:53 left.
AJ Garrett hit a bank-shot 3-pointer from several feet behind the right wing at the buzzer, though, to boost the Cavaliers’ halftime lead to 37-26.
The Cavaliers shot 15 for 23 (65.2 percent) from the field while Anna shot 4 for 16. The Rockets, though, made 18-of-24 free-throw attempts while Purcell Marian made 5-of-6.
“Our style of play, by nature, is going to lead to some extra fouls,” Kerr said. “We’re physical, we gamble, we try to get up in you. We know that’s going to lead to some extra fouls, and we just have to be mentally tough to stay focused through and know this guy’s got three (fouls), this guy’s got two, they’re shooting two (foul shots), all that. That’s something we talk to our kids about a lot.”
Anna will lose five seniors to graduation: Bensman, Austin Fogt, Mason Platfoot, Cathcart and Drew Brodman. Bensman was the Shelby County Athletic League player of the year and averaged 16.5 points per game.
“We’re going to miss them, all five of them,” Barhorst said. “All of them brought a lot to the table for us, not just on the court but also as leaders in getting this program back to where we needed it. We knew coming into this season that we had some pretty high expectations. I thought they met those expectations, we just ran into a pretty tough team tonight that played a little bit better tonight.”
Saturday’s game was Anna’s first district final appearance since the 2013-14 season. With a strong sophomore class with Doseck, Bixler and Riley Huelskamp and others set to return next year, Barhorst is confident the program can continue to have success.
“With Bart, Riley and Griffin heading up the team next year, things are really looking up,” Barhorst said. “We’re going to have to get back after it to get to this point or beyond next year. We’ve got that potential, but we’re going to have to have a good offseason.
“…None of these kids have ever played here, so getting to this point was a definite goal and something we wanted to achieve. We got here, but just came up a little bit short.”