FOSTORIA — Western Reserve’s dreams of playing the role of giant-killer and winning the Division III Fostoria district championship fell apart in the second half Saturday against Liberty-Benton in a boys’ basketball game.
Playing against Ohio’s top-ranked team, the Roughriders held the upper hand for a quarter and a half and were still in good shape during the middle of the third quarter. But the Eagles rolled to a 57-31 win to improve to 23-0 and advance to the Bowling Green regional.
Western finished the season 17-6 overall.
Roughriders coach Chris Sheldon had high praise for his players.
“Our young men can walk out of here with their heads held high and be proud of what they accomplished,’’ he said.
Western shared the Firelands Conference crown with Plymouth, won the school’s fourth straight sectional tournament crown and advanced to the district final for the second time in the last three years.
The first quarter featured extreme defense by both teams. The Roughriders pressured Liberty-Benton into 1-of-12 shooting from the field. Neither team scored for almost four minutes.
Western’s John Pickett hit a layup off an Eagle turnover and baseline jumper shot within a space of a minute for a 4-0 lead. But he was then charged with his second foul and left the game.
Roughrider freshman made two moves to the basket in the final minute and a half, hitting a layup and jump shot to propel his team to an 8-3 lead after the opening eight minutes. The defensive battle continued in the second stanza. Seth Todd and Adam Daniels hit jump shots within a minute’s time and Western led 12-7 at mid-quarter.
Liberty-Benton’s defense got its offense rolling the rest of the quarter. Four Western turnovers resulted in a 12-2 run by the Eagles.
Craig Buckingham scored Western’s only basket at the time. Aaron Craft, a 6-foot freshman, drained a jump shot with one second left as Liberty-Benton surged ahead 19-14 by halftime.
It was also an omen for things to come from him in the second half.
Craft and Nathan Hyde, a 6-3 senior, each netted seven points in the quarter and Andy Smith hauled down six rebounds.
The Roughriders shot 67 percent in the third quarter, but eight turnovers in a row. Western still trailed 27-20 nearing mid-quarter as Pickett tipped in a shot and hit a baseline jumper and Peter Morris added a jump shot.
But Craft put in 10 points and the Eagles pulled away 39-26 after three quarters.
“For two and a half quarters we played within the framework of our game plan, not to allow their three best players hurt us,’’ Sheldon said. “I really thought we did a pretty good job of that.
“The only things that really hurt us were their ability to get second-chance opportunities at the offensive end and their ability to create easy opportunities from their defensive pressure,’’ he added. “They were able to break down and we never got back ahold of our game plan.’’
Liberty-Benton ended all hopes of a Roughrider comeback with an 11-0 run to start the fourth quarter and added a 7-0 surge to increase its lead to 57-29.
“Their players wanted it more than us,’’ Sheldon said. “Not that we backed down, but we did not rise to the challenge and level they were at.’’
Pickett paced Western with 13 points. Todd and Buckingham both corralled five rebounds.
For the game, the Roughriders were 13-of-25 (52 percent) from the field and 4-of-10 (40 percent) from the line with 21 rebounds and 28 turnovers.
Craft led the Eagles with 25 points and Hyde contributed 13. Between the two of them, they were 15-of-18 at the foul line. Smith, a 6-2 junior, had 10 rebounds.
The Eagles connected on 17-of-48 (35 percent) shots from the field and 21-of-26 (81 percent) from the charity stripe with 21 rebounds and 10 turnovers.