DAYTON — Fort Loramie couldn’t hold onto an early 10-point lead in a Division IV regional semifinal on Tuesday at University of Dayton Arena.
Columbus Wellington rallied in the second half to take a lead and secured a victory 38-35 victory over the Redskins in the final minute. Fort Loramie finishes 18-8 overall with the loss, while Wellington advances to play in a regional final on Friday.
“This is a group that just got along together so well,” Fort Loramie coach Corey Britton said. “Whether it was a team meal or a practice, this group just gelled. A group that gels together this well just plays well.
“We struggled some and lost two-in-a-row in the middle of the season. We were winning every other game around Christmas. It sort of took us awhile, but those kids dug their foots in and decided they were going to play their best basketball in February and March.”
Wellington will face Jackson Center in a regional final on Friday at UD Arena. The Tigers beat Cincinnati Christian 40-30 in Tuesday’s second regional semifinal.
The Jaguars scored the last eight points of the first half to pull within 20-18. Evan Henry and Marcus Stewart hit consecutive 3-pointers late in the third quarter to give the squad its first lead of the game at 24-22.
Caeleb Meyer made a late basket to tie Fort Loramie with Wellington 27-27 at the end of the third, but Elijah Meredith made a basket early in the fourth to put the Jaguars ahead 30-29, then Chase Ouellette made a 3 with 5:45 left to increase the lead to four points.
Nick Brandewie and Grant Albers made consecutive baskets to tie it 35-35 with 2:33 left, but the Redskins didn’t score again.
Connor Henrick made 1-of-2 free throws with 1:15 left, then Ouellette made a put-back off a missed free throw with 17 seconds left.
Fort Loramie didn’t get a shot off before the buzzer.
“We had a play drawn up (coming) out of the timeout (before the missed free throw) that we wanted to run and sort of got behind the eight ball there and never got organized,” Britton said.
Albers led the Redskins with 11 points and six rebounds while Meyer scored 10. Ouellette led Wellington with 13 points.
Fort Loramie shot 15 for 43 (34.9 percent) from the floor and was outrebounded 31-25. The squad shot 3 for 8 from the free-throw line.
“We didn’t shoot it as well as we have been in tournament,” Britton said. “A lot of that goes to them. They’re long and they challenge everything, so that makes it hard. We got great looks all night long but it was just one of those nights when the ball didn’t want to go in the basket.”
The Redskins will lose Brandewie, a senior guard, and senior forward Evan Hoelscher to graduation.
“They’re just tough,” Britton said. “They’re winners. You look at any sport that this group has played, whether it’s football or basketball or baseball, they’ve always won. They’re winners, and I’m super proud of them.”
It’s the fourth consecutive year the squad has advanced to regionals.
“We went on another run,” Britton said. “One of these days, we’ll get on top of the mountain.”
The teams traded points to an 8-8 score by the end of the first quarter. Albers scored two of Fort Loramie’s first three baskets in the second to help the squad take a 14-10 lead with about five minutes left.
Ty Ruhenkamp then hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 3:58 left in the second to boost the squad’s lead to seven points, then Meyer made a basket on a drive and hit a free throw 25 seconds later to push the lead to 20-10.
Britton said he was proud of the play of Hoelscher and Ruhenkamp, who played significantly off the bench in the first half after some starters got in foul trouble.
“They stepped up,” Britton said. “That’s the signature of a good team and a good program, when your number is called and the next kid steps up. That’s just the type of kids we have. We have kids that are going to grind and are going to fight. When their number’s called, they’re going to step up and make big plays.
“I was happy for Evan. That’s the best he’s played this season. Ty came in and hit big shots there. I’m proud of those guys.”
Wellington finished on an 8-0 run to cut the gap to two points at halftime.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.