CENTERVILLE — Sidney couldn’t replicate its regular-season success against Stebbins in a Division I sectional final on Thursday at Centerville High School.
The Indians jumped out to big early lead, and though the Yellow Jackets pulled within six points late, they couldn’t pull closer in a 71-62 loss.
Stebbins led by as many as 10 points in the first half and took a 17-point lead into the fourth quarter. The Yellow Jackets twice pulled within six points, but they had garnered 10 fouls in the first quarter alone and struggled to effectively defend the Indians late without fouling and providing free-throw opportunities.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a team get down 12-1 fouls in a half like we did (in the second half), but we weren’t ready, bottom line,” Sidney coach John Willoughby said. “That’s my fault. We weren’t ready. We knew what they were going to throw at us, and we looked like we weren’t ready.”
Stebbins (19-5) advances to face Springboro in a D-I district semifinal on Saturday at Trotwood-Madison High School.
The Yellow Jackets finished 19-5 overall. Sidney has won at least 17 games each of the last five seasons.
It’s the sixth time in program history the squad has won 19 or more games in a season and comes a year after it won a record 20 games. The 39 wins over the last two years is also the best for any similar period in program history.
Sidney will lose five seniors to graduation: Darren Taborn, Dominick Durr, Trey Werntz, Lathan Jones and Darius Boeke. Taborn and Durr were first team all-Miami Valley League selections while Werntz and Jones were honorable mention.
“The seniors had a great career,” Willoughby said. “They were league champions three times and I think had the most wins in four years (of any class). They accomplished a lot, and I’m happy for them, because that class has been overlooked. I think they did a great job this year in showing how good they really are.”
Sidney will return a solid corps next season, as eight players on the team averaged more than five points a game. Four of those players return: sophomore guard Devin Taborn, junior forward Avante Martin, sophomore forward Jaden Swiger and junior guard Camden Vordemark. Martin was an honorable mention all-MVL selection.
“Those guys gave us a lot of spirit through the season and picked us up a lot through the season,” Willoughby said of the returnees. “We just have to get better mentally.”
Sidney beat the Indians 60-56 on its home court on Dec. 10 and 72-59 on Jan. 24 in Riverside but struggled to handle their full-court trapping pressure defense on Thursday. The squad committed well over 10 turnovers and struggled to make shots in the paint despite getting many offensive rebounds.
“We both played the same way,” Willoughby said. “There wasn’t anything new. We just weren’t ready. Give (Stebbins) credit. They’re always a fast-starting team, and we knew that. That was the biggest worry for us, and we just didn’t do it.”
Sidney finished the second quarter with an 8-2 run to pull within 34-29 at halftime. Stebbins quickly re-took control by scoring the first six points of the third quarter in 65 seconds.
“That was tough right out of the gate (in the third),” Willoughby said. “Mental preparation. Mental focus. That’s been our problem all year. Little things like that.
“They don’t take things seriously until it’s over. Mental preparation before the game, mental preparation getting ready is important. We’ve got to improve on that. We battled it all year and were able to overcome it most of the time, but you start playing games like this, it comes back to get you.”
The lead stayed around 11 points until Stebbins scored the last eight points of the quarter to boost their lead to 51-34 with 1:11 left. Jalen Tolbert scored six points during the run.
The Yellow Jackets started the fourth on a 9-4 run to pull within 54-43. They later rattled off five straight points, including a basket after a steal by Martin, to pull within 57-51 with 4:18 left.
Jones completed a three-point play with 1:08 left to bring Sidney within 68-62, but Jake Reed raced down the court, took a long inbounds pass and made a layup three seconds later to push the lead back to eight points.
Stebbins finished the first quarter on a 7-1 run to take an 18-10 lead heading into the second and scored the first five points of the second quarter to push the lead to 13.
Darren Taborn, Durr and Swiger combined to make 4-of-6 free throws over the next minute to pull Sidney within 23-14 with 5:07 left. Durr suffered an injury shortly after and missed the rest of the game.
The teams traded points until the final 90 seconds, then the Yellow Jackets finished the quarter with the 8-2 run to pull within 34-29 at halftime. Jones hit two foul shots during the run while Trey Werntz made one free throw and one basket. Vordemark hit a 3 at the buzzer from the right corner to cap off the run.
Darren Taborn led Sidney with 17 points while Jones scored 12, Werntz had 10 and Martin had eight.
Tolbert led Stebbins with 20 points while Reed scored 16 and Ryan Hickey scored 10.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.