PIQUA — Botkins’ bid at a momentous comeback in a Division IV sectional semifinal was undone by a momentous finish by Ansonia.
Ansonia senior forward Hunter Muir took an inbounds heave and a hit a jumper at the buzzer to lift the Tigers to a 37-36 victory on Tuesday at Piqua’s Garbry Gymnasium.
“That wasn’t exactly how we drew it up, but he was able to figure it out,” Ansonia coach Devin Limburg said of the big shot. “We were trying to lob it up to him and have him finish. The ball got away from him, but he got it and got it in the hole.”
Ansonia (14-10) advances to face Fort Loramie in a sectional final at 7 p.m. on Friday in Piqua. The Redskins beat Riverside 55-35 in Tuesday’s second semifinal.
Botkins looked like it was going to complete a big comeback. The No. 4 seed Trojans trailed for much of the game but battled back from an eight-point deficit and took a one-point lead with 3:10 left in the fourth.
The Trojans couldn’t hold on, though, and finish the season 11-12. It’s a disappointing end for Botkins, which dropped four of its last five games after winning eight of its previous 10.
“We started off struggling, 0-5,” first-year Botkins coach Sean Powell said. “I think that was due to a new program and our youth. We peaked there in the middle. Usually you want to peak at the end. I think that had something to do with our outcome. I’m satisfied that we did peak; we got out of that (early) funk.
“Now we have an understanding of what our identity is going forward.”
Spencer Heuker hit a free throw with 6.5 seconds left to give Botkins a 36-35 lead. Ansonia came back to win after a bizarre end.
After Heuker’s free throw, an Ansonia player took the inbounds pass and heaved a desperation-like shot toward the other end of the court — even though plenty of time remained.
Botkins then attempted to throw the ball inbounds but was called for a travel while trying. That gave Ansonia the ball back with three seconds left.
“We were just trying to get the ball inbounds,” Powell said. “I had all my free-throw shooters in because I knew they were going to foul. …Just a freak mistake there at the end.”
The No. 5 Tigers threw a long inbounds pass to Muir, who jumped a few feet back from his Botkins defenders to catch it. He then took one dribble, popped up and hit a jumper just before the buzzer sounded to clinch the win.
“They lobbed it, a lob on the back side (to Muir),” Powell said. “…(Muir) was able to go up and grab it, and he just made a tough shot.”
Muir finished with 17 points and brought down 10 rebounds. He hit 11-of-12 free-throw attempts in the game — a stark contrast to regular season, in which he shot 47.3 percent from the line.
“I guess he saved them all for the biggest game of the year,” Limburg said. “He was really good tonight. He was just composed and stepped up and made every big one we needed him to make.”
Botkins will lose three seniors to graduation, including Heuker, who scored a game-high 19 points. Heuker was named second team all-Shelby County Athletic League this season after averaging 12 points and eight rebounds per game.
“He’s been huge,” Powell said. “He went out in foul trouble in the second quarter, and Ansonia made a run on us then. His strength down low, boxing out and rebounding, is huge. Then offensively, he was key to our success this year by finishing around the rim.
“Losing that in the second quarter really hurt us, but I thought in the fourth quarter, we did a really good job of regaining momentum, playing Botkins basketball. That got us back in the game.”
The Trojans will also lose forward Josh Madden and center Bryce Metz to graduation. They’ll return much of the roster, including sophomore guard Zane Paul, who averaged 12 points and four assists per game.
It was a defensive contest throughout, which was what Limburg hoped for. Botkins had thrived pushing the tempo this season and hadn’t scored less than 42 points all year but couldn’t push the ball against Ansonia’s zone.
“I told our guys whoever controls the pace is going to win,” Limburg said. “They’ve been scoring 70 to 80 points. We grind things out and keep it in the 30s and 40s. I told them if we were able to keep the score low, we had a good chance of winning.
“All year, the message has been to withstand runs and withstand what any team throws at us. I told our kids they grew up tonight.”
Ansonia went on a 13-3 run in the first half to take a 16-13 lead by halftime, but the teams traded the lead in the third quarter.
Botkins opened the third with a 7-3 scoring advantage, which Jayden Priddy-Powell capped off with a 3 with 3:42 left. The 3 gave the Trojans a 20-19 lead, but Ansonia’s Andrew Rowland made a put-back with 3:18 left to put Ansonia ahead again.
Matthew Farrier made a pair of free throws and a basket in the last two minutes of the third to put Ansonia up 27-22. The Tigers’ lead grew to eight points after Hunter Buckingham hit a wide-open 3 from the left wing, but the Trojans battled back.
Heuker scored six straight points (including four free throws) to pull Botkins within 34-33 with 3:52 left, then Paul made a layup with 3:10 left to put the Trojans ahead 35-34.
“He just started dominating us for a little bit,” Limburg said of Heuker. “We were just able to answer right back.”
Muir made 1-of-2 free throws to tie it with 2:44 left. Neither team scored until Hueker’s late free throw, despite both having good looks in the paint.
Buckingham finished with nine points for Ansonia while Priddy-Powell finished with 10 for Botkins.
Heuker scored five early points to help the Trojans take a 7-0 lead with 3:11 left in the first quarter. The Tigers slowly pulled back in it, though.
Priddy-Powell hit a 3 with 1:24 left in the first to put Botkins ahead 10-3 but Muir hit a basket before the end of the quarter to bring the Tigers within five. Muir then hit 6-of-6 free-throw attempts in the first three minutes of the second to bring Ansonia within 13-11.
The run continued with Hueker on the bench in foul trouble. Buckingham made a 3 with 3:14 left in the second to give Ansonia a 14-13 lead, then Muir hit another pair of free throws to increase the lead to three points with 2:18 left.
Ansonia shot 10 for 39 (25.6 percent) from the field while Botkins shot 13 for 34 (38.2). The Trojans owned a 29-26 rebounding advantage but committed 14 turnovers to Ansonia’s nine. The Tigers made 14-of-18 free-throw attempts, while Botkins made 7-of-12.
Fort Loramie 55, Riverside 35
Fort Loramie drastically improved its shooting from the first half to the second half, which helped turn a close score into a blowout by the end of Tuesday’s second D-IV sectional semifinal.
The Redskins shot 8 for 23 (34.8 percent) from the field in the first half and was outrebounded 13-12 by the Pirates.
Fort Loramie led 20-18 at halftime but ran away with a 13-6 scoring advantage in the third and a 22-11 advantage in the fourth. The Redskins shot 12 for 26 (46.1 percent) in the second half.
“We missed a bunch of cheap ones in the first half,” Fort Loramie coach Corey Britton said. “I think our (assistant) coaches had us for seven missed layups in the first half. But give Riverside a lot of credit. They finished well around the rim and hit shots early.”
Mason Kemper led Fort Loramie with 15 points while Eli Rosengarten scored 12 and Nick Brandewie added 10. Six other players scored for the Redskins (17-7).
“I think it’s huge,” Britton said of the balanced scoring. “It takes the load off of our better shooters when everybody gets going early, getting everybody on the same page offensively and getting the movement going.”
Brandewie, a junior guard, also had three rebounds and two assists in what was his first game in two weeks.
“He’s ‘Mr. Consistent’ for us,” Britton said of Brandewie, who’s one of three returning letterwinners off last season’s regional runner-up squad. “He’s been through the fire. …He brings that experience and sometimes that calming effect on our team.
“Just to have him back out there is huge. He’s a little rusty and his conditioning isn’t quite there, but we’ll keep working on him the next few days, and hopefully he’ll be even better Friday.”
Fort Loramie will try to earn a fourth consecutive district final appearance on Friday against Ansonia. Britton said the Tigers’ performance against Botkins was impressive.
“We’ve seen maybe two or three zone defenses all year long,” Britton said. “They were really good tonight and beat a really good Botkins team, which beat us (once).
“We’ve got to be ready to go on Friday, or our season’s going to be done.”
Kyle Knight led Riverside with nine points. The Pirates finished 13 for 38 (34.2 percent) from the field and were outrebounded 34-26 for the game.
Riverside finishes 7-15 overall.
The Pirates will lose nine seniors to graduation: Knight, Jaxon Heath, Kameron Schlumbohm, Wyatt Auflick, Ajay Stapleton, Hunter Hubble, Lane Willoby, Trevor Young and Harley Asbury.
Willoby was a first team all-Northwest Central Conference selection this year after averaging 13.6 points and 8.8 rebounds per game.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.