RUSSIA — Fairlawn’s upset victory over Jackson Center last Friday clinched an outright Shelby County Athletic League boys basketball title for Anna.
The win prevented Tuesday’s makeup contest between the Rockets and Russia from having any meaning toward the league race — not that anyone would have noticed from the way Anna played.
The Rockets played like a team with a lot on the line and kept up their intensity through the final minutes of an SCAL game at Clair C. Naveau Gymnasium.
Anna jumped ahead early and cruised to an 82-66 victory over Russia in both teams’ final SCAL game of the season. The Rockets (20-2) finish first in the league with an 11-1 conference record while Russia (14-8) finishes tied with Fort Loramie for third at 7-5.
“Our kids definitely deserved it,” Anna coach Nate Barhorst said. “They wanted it and they proved it tonight. I think tonight they wanted to come out and put their stamp on it even though the standings were decided last Friday. We felt like there was still a little bit missing, and this helps solidify it.”
Barhorst hopes the win was the first of a streak for Anna, which will open tournament play on Saturday against Carlisle at Northmont. The Rockets, which were ranked No. 8 in Division III in the final state Associated Press poll, lost to Minster 66-64 last Saturday on a last-second shot by the Wildcats.
“That’s exactly what we talked about after the game, that we wanted (consistent) intensity,” Barhorst said. “There were a few things that were burned into our minds after that game that gave us motivation. Hopefully we keep riding that coming up through tournament here.
“It was good to see the kids respond. We really didn’t let up at all until the fourth quarter when we had some substitutions. We told our kids you can never let up. You have to play relentless and play like you’re behind. I thought our kids did that.”
Anna led by 12 points at the end of the first quarter after nine points by senior guard Bart Bixler and eight points by senior forward Griffin Doseck. The Rockets boosted their lead to 44-28 by halftime, and Bixler completed a three-point play with 5:44 left in the third to push the advantage to 55-34.
“I was a little disappointed in our start tonight,” Russia coach Dave Borchers said. “We didn’t execute some of the things we wanted to execute as far as slowing down their transition game. They’ve been doing that all year and doing it well all year. I thought that was something we were able to (stop) better the first time we played them (a 58-52 loss on Jan. 22).
“Give Anna credit. They’re a very nice team and well-coached. They do a good job.”
Borchers hopes Russia, which is taking a two-game losing streak into the tournament, can find more consistency heading into the postseason. Before the Raiders lost to defending Division IV state champion Marion Local last Saturday, they had won five-straight games. The Raiders were 9-6 before that winning streak.
The biggest area he’s hoping for consistency in is rebounding. The Raiders start three players over 6-foot-2 but struggled rebounding against Anna, especially early on the defensive end. The Rockets were often able to capitalize on second- and third-chance looks.
“We have the ability to rebound pretty well, and for reasons I can’t put my finger on, some nights we do (rebound) really well, and some nights we’re a little lacking in that area,” Borchers said. “It’s not that we’re not trying to rebound, it’s that sometimes we get caught up in what’s going on in the game and maybe we don’t have our heads in the right spot.
“It’s something that’s been a battle all year long and something we’ve got to get better at. …We’ve had some games like tonight where it gets away from us and it lets the opponent score a lot. We’ve just got to keep focused on it.”
Doseck led Anna with 22 points while Bixler scored 18. Riley Huelskamp scored 13 and Justin Murray added 10.
Russia senior forward Jordan York led the squad with 15 points while Mason Dapore scored 14. Will Sherman and Carter Francis each added eight.
Anna jumped out to an 8-2 lead in the first two minutes but Russia got back in it. Daniel Kearns scored after a steal to bring the Raiders within 10-8, but Bixler hit a 3 and Doseck followed with a basket to increase the advantage to 15-8.
Evan Monnier made a layup to cut the gap to five points, but Anna finished on a 9-2 run over the last 2:30 of the quarter to push the lead to 24-12.
Russia pulled within 31-20 with 4:50 left in the second, but Anna scored nine of the next 11 points over a two-minute stretch to take firm control and force Russia to call a timeout.
Anna, the No. 1 seed out of 22 teams in the Dayton Division III sectional, will open tournament play next Saturday against No. 21 seed Carlisle and Northmont’s Thunderdome.
“It’ll take an effort like (tonight),” Barhorst said of making a tournament run. “It’s going to take kids stepping up, great guard play, great movement with the basketball. Everything that you saw from us tonight, and everybody working as one.”
Russia, the No. 3 seed in the Piqua Div. IV sectional, will open tournament play on Saturday against No. 10 Mechanicsburg at Piqua’s Garbry Gymnasium.
“We just talked about that in the locker room, that we’re 0-0 right now,” Borchers said. “It’s time to go and it’s time to focused. Mechanicsburg has been playing very well and just beat (Springfield) Emmanuel Christian, who is the No. 3 seed in the Troy bracket. We’re hoping to have three good days on practice, get focused on Mechanicsburg and get ready.”
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.