KETTERING — Anna took advantage of its superior height and size and controlled the post throughout much of a Division III regional semifinal against Dayton Stivers on Wednesday. The added hot shooting of senior wing Carter Elliott made the Rockets too much for Stivers to contain.
After trailing by six points early, Anna dominated the rest of Wednesday’s tournament game at Trent Arena to earn a 70-52 win over the Tigers.
Anna (25-2) advances to face Cincinnati Purcell Marian in a regional final at 7 p.m. on Saturday at Trent Arena. The Cavaliers beat Versailles 52-37 in Wednesday’s first regional semifinal.
“It’s amazing — we’ve been waiting our whole lives for this moment,” Anna senior wing guard Carter Elliott said. “We’re going to put it all in, and try to get (to state). …(Purcell Marian) looked pretty good and is strong, but we’re going to have to get big defensive stops.”
The Rockets got those in bunches on Wednesday in dominating effort of the Dayton City League co-champs.
Stivers (20-5) had early success against the Rockets on drives. Anna tightened up and prevented some inside drives in a man-to-man defense, and after switching to a 3-2 zone, the Tigers struggled to find shots — and often didn’t get the rebound if they missed.
“We had to get defensive stops on them driving the ball,” Elliott said. “We switched to that 3-2 defense, and we had to make them shoot, and they weren’t shooting that well.”
Anna owned a 49-31 rebounding advantage and held Stivers to 12 offensive rebounds, just five of which came in the second half.
Anna coach Nate Barhorst noticed while watching game film that Stivers’ had struggled against 3-2 zones some, including in a sectional tournament opener against Houston.
“They’d seen it many times and struggled with it, and I think it got in their heads because our kids are a little quicker and they can shift a little bit more,” Barhorst said. “(Our players) communicate well in that and hit the backside boards, which was tough for (Stivers). They rely on hitting the backside boards and getting the stick-backs, and they didn’t get too many of those tonight.”
Barhorst said the zone — which Anna hadn’t used all year — helped the team take advantage of its height while going for rebounds. Senior center Griffin Doseck (6-foot-5) had eight rebounds and Elliott (6-4) had seven. Junior guard Isaac Lininger (5-11) led the squad with 14.
“Once we saw (on film) that Stivers had struggled with that, we knew we had to have it in our back pocket,” Barhorst said. “We went to it a little bit earlier than we would have liked to, but it seemed to be a big factor. Our kids did a great job in it.”
Elliott scored five of Anna’s seven 3-pointers. He hit two 3s early in the third quarter to help Anna turn a seven-point halftime lead into a 15-point lead. Elliott averages about seven points per game.
“That was huge,” Barhorst said. “We told them they were going to play an up-tempo games and there were going to be times where they’d find themselves wide open because of their style and their trapping. If they’re trapping, there’s going to be somebody open, and you’ve got to attack if you’re a shooter.
“That’s what Carter Elliott did, letting those other guys attack …and then find him and kick to him.”
Stivers had success in transition early and took a 6-0 lead in the first minute, but Anna closed the gap to 16-14 at halftime and then took a 31-24 lead by halftime. After the tough start, the Rockets were able to jump over Stivers defenders for point-blank shots in the post and largely closed down the Tigers’ ability to drive inside late in the first half.
Things didn’t change in the second half — except that Anna complimented its dominating inside performance with more 3-pointers.
Elliott and Doseck hit consecutive 3s from the right wing to put Anna ahead 39-26 with 5:55 left in the third, and Elliott hit another 3 from the right wing about 90 seconds later to increase the lead to 43-28.
Bart Bixler made a 3 with 2:54 left and Riley Huelskamp followed with a shot on a drive about 20 seconds later to increase the lead to 48-30.
Trevon Ellis hit a heave from the volleyball line at the third-quarter buzzer to bring Stivers within 54-38 heading in the fourth, but Anna pushed its lead to 20 points on a basket by Lininger with 4:07 left and cruised from there.
“Our kids did a phenomenal job weathering any kind of (Stivers) brought and bounced back and got it,” Barhorst said. “We made some huge adjustments and stuck to them until they were able to find a solution, and they never did.”
Bixler also scored 19 points and had five rebounds. Doseck finished with 15 points and Lininger added six.
Anna shot 22 for 57 (38.6 percent) from the field while Stivers shot 21 for 60 (35 percent). The Rockets had 13 turnovers and Stivers had 11.
Barhorst was pleased with the play of Bixler, Huelskamp, Lininger and all of the team’s guards for attacking Stivers on drives.
“I think our kids have to kind of get a feel for the game and for the athletes, and once they get going a little bit and once they get the feel, they’re able to play with them and make the adjustments and take it at them,” Barhorst said.
Stivers scored six points in the first 56 seconds of the game, which prompted Barhorst to call a timeout. Though Stivers pushed its lead to as many as seven, Anna trimmed the gap before the end of the quarter.
Jordan Williams made a basket to put Stivers up 16-9 with 1:22 left in the first, but Elliott hit a 3-pointer 12 seconds later and Bixler made a layup with 38 seconds left to cut the gap to two points heading into the second.
“After I hit my first (3) my teammates just kept getting me the ball,” Elliott said. “That’s the great thing about this team — if someone’s feeling it, get it to the person that’s feeling hot.”
The Rockets carried their momentum into the second quarter. Doug Spear made a pair of free throws to put the Tigers ahead 20-16 with 6:03 left, but Huelskamp made a layup with 5:17 left and Doseck completed a three-point play a minute later to give Anna a 21-20 lead.
Lininger split a pair of free throws with 3:29 left to extend the lead to 22-20, then Bixler made two free throws a minute later to push the lead to four.
Doseck split a pair of free throws with 24 seconds left to increase Anna’s lead to 29-24, then Lininger made a mid-range jumper at the buzzer after grabbing a rebound to push the advantage to 31-24.
Spear and Allen Latimore each scored 11 for Stivers and Da’Juan Allen finished with 10.
Anna will try to earn its first regional title and state berth since 2008 on Saturday against Purcell Marian (23-4), which won the Greater Catholic League Co-Ed Central Division title this season.
Purcell has won 10 of its last 11 games, with the only loss in that stretch coming to defending Div. I state champion Cincinnati Moeller.
Purcell Marian beat Anna 78-65 in a district final last season.
“They’re good all the way around, all five positions they put out there on the floor,” Barhorst said. “They’re very well-coached, they’re disciplined, they make the extra pass, they find the hot hand.
“We’ve played tough teams before and we played them last year. We know what they did last year — that sticks in our mind. Either way, it’s going to be a phenomenal game for both teams.”