DAYTON — Anna is used to speeding up opponents but struggled to keep up when Dayton Stivers did the same in a Division III regional final on Wednesday at University of Dayton Arena.
The Rockets took a 16-point lead early in the second quarter but Stivers rallied and ran away in the final minutes to a 71-63 victory in front of a sparse crowd.
Stivers finished the second quarter on a 17-8 run to pull within 32-25 at halftime. The Tigers took a lead in the third quarter but trailed 51-44 heading into the fourth.
Stivers scored 11 consecutive points late in the fourth quarter to take the lead and put the game away with a 6-3 run in the final 67 seconds.
“Don’t get me wrong, we’re an uptempo team, but we were getting into their flow, and it was getting sloppy,” Anna coach Nate Barhorst said. “We called a timeout there and talked about that and knew we needed to reel it back in because if we continued to play that style, it was going to hurt us.
“Eventually we kept needing buckets to match what they were doing, and it caught up to us.”
Stivers (14-8), which tied for second in the Dayton City League in regular season, advances to face Cincinnati Deer Park in a regional final on Saturday afternoon at UD Arena.
Anna, which earned a Shelby County Athletic League title for the third consecutive year, finishes 22-5. It’s the second consecutive year the Rockets won a D-III district championship and advanced to regionals.
The squad will lose five seniors to graduation in guard Bart Bixler, Kamren Steward, Isaac Lininger and Riley Huelskamp, who were all either starters or key bench players a year ago. The squad will also lose forward Justin Murray.
“We’re losing five incredible seniors who in their career had one of the best three-year spans I can remember a group having,” Barhorst said. “I’m just so proud of the way they led that I hope the underclassmen take a page from this, because these (seniors) are mature beyond their years.”
Bixler, who is 5-11, finished his career with one of his best performances. He scored 32 points and was second on the team with eight rebounds.
“He’s been our tough kid all the way through the season,” Barhorst said. “He comes up big in certain situations and comes up hanging with tough teams like tonight and gives us a chance. When other guys are struggling, he keeps us right there in the hunt.”
The game came on the first day new spectator restrictions were in effect for OHSAA events. The association announced restrictions on Tuesday following Governor Mike DeWine’s call to have access to all indoor sporting events in the state limited to help prevent the spread of coronavirus COVID-19.
About 250 people were in attendance at the tipoff of Anna and Stivers’ matchup — far less than the thousands that filled Kettering Fairmont’s Trent Arena when the teams played in a regional semifinal a year ago, which Anna won by 18 points.
“As much as I don’t want to say it’s an excuse, we do feed off of our crowd,” Barhorst said. “There’s no doubt about that.
“I don’t agree with the decision that they made but we’ve got to live with it. This group, they love our crowd. I’m not going to sit here and make excuses, but it was definitely a factor.”
Stivers started the third quarter with a 13-5 run and took a 38-37 lead after Doug Spears hit a 3 with 3:06 left.
Bixler scored 10 points in a 90-second span to give the squad a 49-38 lead with 1:19 left, but the Tigers went on another big run early in the fourth.
DaJuan Allen hit two free throws and Trevon Ellis made a basket with 5:58 left to give bring Stivers within 53-51 with 5:58 left.
“We knew that was a team that wasn’t going to go away,” Barhorst said. “They weren’t going to go, ‘Alright, we give up.’ …They came out in the second half and said, ‘We’re taking it to you, and you stop us.’ We just didn’t have enough there at the end.
Isaiah Masteller made a shot to give the Rockets a 58-54 lead with 4:16 left, but Stivers then scored the next 11 points. The Rockets didn’t get any offensive rebounds during the possession, and the Tigers raced up the floor after each Anna miss and quickly scored.
Allen Lattimore hit a basket with 2:54 left to give Stivers a 63-58 lead. The squad slowed the pace after that, and Ellis capped of the run with a pair of free throws with 1:58 left to boost the lead to seven.
Anna didn’t pull closer than five points the rest of the way.
“It was a game of runs in the second half,” Barhorst said. “When they got it going and pulled close, we went ahead again. But when we didn’t hit shots (late), it just seemed like it had a compound effect because they were coming down and it seemed like every possession the last four or five minutes they were just scoring.”
Steward finished with 15 points and six rebounds. Huelskamp, who is 5-10, led the team with nine rebounds and eight assists.
Ellis led the Tigers with 19 points and 12 rebounds. Lattimore scored 18, DaJuan Allen scored 12 and Antonnio Aubrey scored eight.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.