CLAYTON — Anna managed one field goal in the first quarter and was struggling to stop Greenon’s quick-passing offensive attack in a Division III sectional final on Thursday.
Anna coach Nate Barhorst knew something needed to change, and a smaller lineup worked.
The Rockets battled back to tie it before halftime, then dominated the last four minutes to pull away to a 45-38 victory at Northmont High School’s Thunderdome. The No. 10 seed Rockets advance to play Springfield Shawnee in a district semifinal on Saturday.
It was the first tournament game for both Anna and No. 7 Greenon, and the squads’ shooting was rusty early.
But Greenon was able to find a groove faster. After Anna’s McKane Finkenbine made a 3 for the game’s first points, the Knights scored the last eight of the quarter, including on two drives in the final two minutes.
The Knights then made the first basket of the second to take a 10-3 lead.
Barhorst knew senior center Grant Albers and senior forward Hayden Huelskamp would play less than normal on Thursday, but both played sparingly as the Rockets went to an all-guard lineup for some of the game, including in the second quarter.
It worked, as the Rockets picked up the pace, scored a few baskets and transition and found shooters open on the arc.
Bryce Cobb made a 3 to cap off a 7-0 run that tied it 12-12 midway through the second, and the teams played to a 20-20 tie at halftime.
“We went small tonight, and while that’s one of the things we thought we’d just have to do (against Greenon), on the same token, we think we can play better at too at times, because we get better movement and have guys that are constantly looking for each other,” Barhorst said.
“It definitely did work, and Grant Albers stepped up in a huge role. Even though he didn’t have as many minutes, he kept himself positive. Same thing with Hayden Huelskamp. He probably didn’t have his best of nights, but he’s a guy who sticks with it.”
Finkenbine, a senior guard who was recently voted the Shelby County Athletic League player of the year, led the squad with 18 points, eight of which came from the free-throw line. He made a perfect 8-of-8 free-throw attempts, six of which came in the fourth quarter.
Finkenbine averages 24 points per game but was held to four field goals on Thursday. Barhorst credited him for a resilient effort.
“For him to stay within himself was huge,” Barhorst said. “His freshman and sophomore year, he wasn’t doing that. But he’s been challenged like that all year, getting a lot of defensive attention.”
The teams played to a 32-32 tie at the midpoint of the fourth quarter, but Anna went on an 8-2 run to take control. Trey Heitkamp started the run with a driving layup, Drew Doseck hit a shot and two free throws and Finkenbine hit two free throws during the run.
The Rockets continued their hot free-throw shooting late to secure the win. They made 19-of-22 free-throw attempts on the night.
Doseck added 10 points. Heitkamp finished with four, all in the fourth quarter. Heitkamp played off the bench along with Carter Seigle, and Barhorst credited theirs and Doseck’s performances.
“We have some guys stepping up in some roles that they didn’t have earlier in the year, and it goes to show they’re getting more confidence, and hopefully they can build off of that,” Barhorst said.
“… Heitkamp had been plagued with a knee injury all year. We knew he was going to give us some size and athleticism, and when McKane got in foul trouble, we switched him on to (Greenon’s Jaden) Journell, and I thought he made a great impact in containing him and not letting him get to the bucket, because that’s what Journell does best.
“Again, I was really just happy with our complete effort, especially in the second half.”
The Rockets will face No. 5 Shawnee (15-7) in a district semifinal on Saturday at Northmont.
The Braves, which like Anna advanced to regionals last year and were knocked out by Cincinnati Taft, have won six consecutive games since dropping to 9-7 after a loss to Central Buckeye Conference rival London on Feb. 1.
Shawnee was ranked in the D-III state poll early in the season but went through a rough patch in the middle of the year, which started in a 61-57 loss to Botkins on Dec. 19 at Centerville High School.
The Braves average 55 points per game and are holding opponents to an average of 46. Three players average in double figures, including junior guard Zion Crowe, who averages 18.1 points and 5.4 rebounds.
“If our kids continue to battle, I like what we bring to the table,” Barhorst said. “They’re very, very athletic across the board. We’re going to have to be on our A-game to be able to play with them and beat them because of the fact they have guys that can dribble-drive, penetrate and finish down low.
“They’re a very strong team and a very well-coached, disciplined team.”
Greenon, which lost five of its last seven games, finishes 15-8 overall. Journell led the squad with 16 points.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.