CASSTOWN — After winning its first three games, Anna lost seven in a 10-game stretch, four of which were one-point defeats.
Anna fell below .500 with its last one-point loss, a 57-56 defeat to Arlington in the Fort Loramie MLK Classic three weeks ago.
“We had a pretty special meeting to call it out and address these concerns. ‘Hey guys, you’re right there in every game. What’s it going to take?’ Anna coach Nate Barhorst, who is in his 12th year, said.
“I told them it was going to take a little bit extra effort, but more than anything, it was going to take us coming together.”
The Rockets have rebounded, and they just completed a spectacular week.
They beat West Liberty-Salem 46-34 last Saturday and handed Russia its first loss of the season with a 52-48 win on Friday, both on their home court. Then they beat Miami East 54-52 on the road on Saturday on a buzzer-beater by Brady Wenning.
“Tonight was the epitome of relentlessness for us,” Barhorst said after Saturday’s win. “We were looking for something like that. We didn’t buckle, we didn’t shake. We executed the play that we wanted to end it. …On a nonconference Saturday night, you just have to find a way to scrape it together to get the W.”
West Liberty-Salem (15-4) and Miami East (11-8) are both among the Dayton area’s best Division III teams, and Russia (17-1) has been ranked No. 1 all season in the state Associated Press Division IV poll. The Raiders beat Anna 56-45 on Dec. 22.
Anna (12-7) pushed its winning streak to six games with those three wins. The streak started with a 42-40 overtime win at Jackson Center on Jan. 19 on a buzzer-beater by Evan Myers; the Rockets lost 41-40 to the Tigers on a buzzer-beater on Dec. 19.
“We’ve found a way to pull it out,” Barhorst said. “We’ve just got to find a way to keep it going and keep it consistent.”
The Rockets are balanced and have had different players lead them in games. Wenning led the squad with 24 points on Saturday while Mason Carey added 17.
In Friday’s win against Russia, Myers and Trey Heitkamp each scored 13. Derek Madden and Alex Shappie have also scored in double figures during the winning streak, and Jacob Feroze has also scored in double figures this season.
“With four one-point losses, everyone can sit back and say, ‘Wow, this team is a couple possessions away from being 16-3.’ That’s hindsight,” Barhorst said. “We’d like to have some of those games back, but bringing it closer together and believing in one another that much more to get over the hump, I think that’s huge. We needed that.”
After a back-and-forth first quarter on Saturday, Anna used a 12-7 scoring edge in the second to take a 29-23 halftime lead. Miami East closed the gap in the third quarter, then tied it three times in the fourth.
The last tie came with about five seconds left.
Wenning split a pair of free throws to push Anna’s lead to 52-49. The Vikings drove down, and Carey fouled Miami East’s Jacob Roeth just passed midcourt.
Roeth was beginning to drive from the right side and was dribbling with his left hand when Carey got an arm under him while reaching for the ball. The ball came loose far outside on the right wing as Roeth was apparently trying to pass.
Miami East argued Roeth was shooting, and after a conference, the officials changed their original call to a shooting foul.
Roeth, who became the program’s all-time leading scorer on Friday night, hit all three foul shots to tie it.
After a timeout, Carey raced down the court, started driving in from the right wing and drew three Miami East defenders. He threw a pass to Wenning in the post, and Wenning made a shot with 0.6 seconds left as Roeth raced over and fouled him.
Carey, a senior guard, and Heitkamp, a senior forward, have taken on leadership roles according to Barhorst.
“Those are the two pillars we lean on day in, day out, every game,” Barhorst said. “They’re pulling us through. To have those two guys on the team, it’s huge. You can tell with their demeanor. Every time they think they’re in it.
“Even tonight, in that moment where Jacob hit those three free throws in a row, even if it’s a bad call, you’ve got to play through it. And they did.
“… Mason made a magnificent pass to Brady to go up and score. Overall, a great team win. Give credit to Miami East for their great effort. They wanted that just as much. They’ve got a stud in Jacob Roeth, and (Devon) Abshire stepped up for them big, too.”
Abshire, a senior forward, led the squad with 19 points. Roeth scored 14 and Ty Rohrer scored 12.
Wenning, a sophomore forward, scored 18 of his season-high 24 points in the second half, 14 of which came in the fourth quarter.
“The middle was open for him, and he knows that shot and loves that shot,” Barhorst said. “We were going to go to that well until it was dry. It didn’t dry up tonight. We love that kid; it’s a big game from him.”
Anna will return to action on Saturday when it hosts Versailles (7-10).
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.