WEST LIBERTY — An 11-minute scoreless stretch was too much for Anna to overcome in a defensive battle at West Liberty-Salem on Thursday.
The Tigers pulled away in the second half to earn a 30-20 victory in a matchup of two squads that qualified for Division III district final games last year.
It’s the first loss of the year for Anna, which drops to 4-1 overall. West Liberty-Salem lost its first three games of the season with leading scorer Kelsey Day on the bench due to an injury. The Tigers (4-3, 2-0 Ohio Heritage Conference) have rolled since, including a one-point win over Fort Loramie on Monday.
“They’ve got three or four guards that really, really pressure the basketball,” Anna coach Jeff Maurer said. “We knew going in that it was going to be a challenge. It wasn’t even that we couldn’t get shots in our offense — we couldn’t even get into our offense because they were denying the wings. We’ve got to get better at that.”
West Liberty-Salem scored the last five points of the first half to take an 11-6 halftime lead and continued the big run in the third quarter.
Sophie Cole hit a basket with six minutes left, then Grace Estes and Selena Weaver scored baskets to cap off the 12-0 run and put the Tigers ahead 17-6 with 2:31 left.
Michaela Ambos made a basket with 1:36 left to end an over 11-minute scoreless streak for Anna. Lauren Barhorst later made a basket to pull Anna within 20-12, but Cole and Day made baskets in the last 30 seconds to push the lead to 12 points by the end of the quarter.
Anna pulled within 10 points on a free throw by Ambos with 3:13 left in the fourth, but West Liberty’s Gabby Hollar made a pair of free throws and Emily Hollar followed with a steal and a layup with 1:52 left to stave off any comeback attempts.
Day led the Tigers with eight points while Cole and Estes each scored six. Barhorst led Anna with six while Ambos and Breah Kuck each finished with five. Ella Doseck, who scored 30 points against Russia last Saturday, managed two points against the Tigers.
There was little scoring in the first half. Both teams’ defenses prevented many shot opportunities — and when someone did shoot, it was normally a good bit off.
Kuck hit a basket to put Anna ahead 6-5 with 4:58 left in the second, but the Tigers went on a run in the last few minutes of the quarter to pull ahead.
Estes made a basket after a steal with 2:31 left to give West Liberty a 7-6 lead, then scored another off the glass with 48 seconds left. Day made 2-of-3 free throws with 11 seconds left to boost the lead to five points at halftime. All three of Anna’s possessions in the last minute resulted in turnovers.
The Rockets’ next game is Saturday at home against Houston. They have another big nonconference game next Tuesday at home against New Knoxville, which fell to 5-1 overall with a 33-29 loss to New Bremen in a Midwest Athletic Conference game on Thursday.
Maurer said the tough nonconference competition will help prepare the squad for tournament time.
“We want these kinds of teams on our schedule,” Maurer said. “That’s a great team. They’re going to win a lot of basketball games. Those are the kind of games we want to be in and compete in. Now we just have to learn from the things we didn’t do well today, go to work and get better.”