Thursday, March 12th, 2009
Cavs top state-ranked Eagles
By Gary R. Rasberry
Coldwater's Keith Wenning, 23, goes up for the game-winning shot in front of a L. . .
ELIDA - In just a matter of around 20 seconds, Coldwater fans experienced the spectrum of emotions.
The Cavaliers went from down one to up one and then had to sweat out the prospect of losing by one on the last shot of the game.
It wasn't until the last-second shot of Liberty-Benton's Aaron Craft went off the rim harmlessly as the horn sounded could the Cavaliers breathe a breath of relief as the Cavaliers advanced to the Division III Elida district title game with a 44-43 win over the state's second-ranked Eagles at the Elida Fieldhouse on Wednesday night.
The Cavaliers (16-6) advance to their first district title game since 1999 and will play D-III defending state champ Ottawa-Glandorf, which held off Spencerville 54-50 in the opening game at Elida, on Saturday at 1 p.m. The Eagles see a 19-game win streak snapped to end the season at 20-2.
Coldwater had a nine-point lead at 38-29 with 4:03 left in the contest before Craft, the Northwest District's Division III Player of the Year, began to take control of the game.
"What we tried to do is contain him the best we could," said Coldwater coach Mike Kanney. "I thought Adam (Rammel) did a nice job, I thought Tony (Harlamert) did a good job. In retrospect, that was the best thing we did in the first half (where Craft had just six points)."
From the 3:10 mark of the fourth quarter on, Craft, who had been guarded heavily by the Cavaliers through the game, scored the final 12 points for the Eagles as Coldwater suffered several turnovers and missed key free throws down the stretch that kept the Eagles alive.
"He strapped us on his back, really, for the majority of the ballgame," said Eagles coach Steve Williman. "I'm proud of my team, they battled and came back."
A big turn came with 2:45 left when Coldwater's 6-7 center Eric Lefeld, who dominated the inside against a smaller Liberty-Benton squad, picked up his fourth foul and took a short break. Craft made two free throws to cut it to 40-35. The Cavaliers turned the ball over the next possession as Craft scored again to make it a three-point game. Lefeld came back in, but was called for traveling as he got the ball inside. The Eagles had two solid chances to tie the game with a three, but Craft got a stickback to make it 40-39 with 51.5 seconds left.
The Cavaliers, just 9-of-19 from the free-throw line in the game, got two big tosses as Adam Rammel made a pair to make it 42-39. Craft took the ball and worked for the open three, sinking one from top of the key with 39 seconds left to tie the game for the first time since early in the contest.
Coldwater called a timeout to set up a play, but when play resumed, Craft got the steal and was fouled with 21 seconds left. Craft put the Eagles in the lead for the first time since the end of the first quarter with a free throw, but missed the second as Lefeld pulled down his ninth board of the game. Kanney called his last timeout to set up a play.
On the inbounds, Lefeld got the ball and was immediately double-teamed, but before the pressure got too great, Lefeld flipped the ball back to Keith Wenning, who went to the hoop and scored while being fouled with 3.1 seconds left on the clock.
"We said we wanted to go two (players) inside, screen, look to get it to the middle and go high-low," said Kanney of the game-winning play. "Whether it was Keith catching it or Eric. It just so happened Eric made a nice pass into the post and Keith finished it."
Wenning appeared to have made it a two-point game by making the free throw, but was called for a lane violation - the second time Wenning was called for it in the game - negating the point and making it 44-43.
After Williman called his last timeout, Craft got the ball at halfcourt and dashed toward the basket. Craft tried a runner from seven feet out, but the ball glanced off the rim and away from Eagle players as time ran out, giving the Cavaliers the win.
"We wanted to put the ball in Aaron's hands," said Williman. "He got all the way to the rim, just unfortunately didn't fall for us."
"The big thing was, when our kids had to make a basket late, they did," said Kanney.
"Give (Liberty-Benton), they got back into the game doing what they do best. Craft is a great player. They're a very good basketball team. I'm just proud of my players. They played tough."
Lefeld was a hard player for the Eagles to contend with scoring 15 and pulling down nine boards.
"We knew that would be a matchup problem for us," said Williman, whose tallest player on the floor was 6-4 Derek Recker. "We were hoping they wouldn't look for him as aggressively as they did. That's a very solid gameplan on their part to utilize him because we don't have an answer."
Joe Thomas came up with a clutch performance, scoring 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting. Wenning added 10 points and seven boards.
Craft, verbally committed to Tennessee, finished with 26 points, 20 in the second half.
Tickets - Coldwater will sell tickets for Saturday's district final tonight from 6-7 p.m. in the high school and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday. Tickets are $6 for adults and $4 for students, with all tickets at the gate $6. Coldwater receives a portion from only the presale tickets. Parking will be $2 at Elida. The doors open at noon.