By Marc Tobias
OXFORD — After two ties and eight lead changes, Marion Local was finally able to put Jefferson Township away at the free-throw line late in the fourth quarter to seal its second straight trip to the Division IV state basketball championships in Columbus next weekend.
After taking just two free throw attempts in the first three quarters, the Flyers made 14-of-18 free throws in the fourth quarter to seal a 54-45 victory over the Broncos in the Division IV regional finals at Oxford.
Cory Luebke led the Flyers’ foul line attack, as he made 8-of-8 from the stripe in the fourth quarter to finish with 10 points.
“That was huge, that’s what you have to do to advance,” said Marion Local coach Keith Westrick. “There’s no doubt when you get down to crunch time people are going to foul you and put you on the line. If you step up with any fear in your eyes then you’re not going to come out of here with a regional championship. Of all the things we did tonight a little bit tentative, when we stepped to the line we looked very confident.”
Meanwhile, Jefferson didn’t take advantage of their free-throw opportunities as they made just 8-of-15 from the line.
“I think free throws and execution at the end of the game were the keys,” said Jefferson coach Art Winston. “I think we missed seven free throws in that third and fourth quarter when they hit theirs.”
Both teams struggled from the field as Marion Local hit 33 percent of their shots and Jefferson 36 percent.
It was Ryan Winner that came up with the big shots, though, for the Flyers, as he led all scorers with 20 points on 7-of-14 shooting from the field.
His biggest shots came from behind the three-point arc, where he made 4-of-7 in what always appeared to be big situations.
Winner made a pair of threes in the third quarter, but the third one, which came in the fourth quarter, was huge.
Jefferson had just taken the lead at 29-28 on a Marquis Brooks three-pointer for the Broncos’ first lead since it was 6-5 early in the first quarter.
Winner came down the next possession to bury a trey of his own for a 31-29 Flyers lead with 1:38 remaining in the third.
Ironically, it was Brooks once again putting the Broncos on top in the fourth quarter at 37-36 on a drive to the basket with 4:26 remaining, and once again it was Winner burying a three-pointer to put Marion Local back on top 39-37 with 3:51 in the game.
Marion Local then outscored Jefferson 15-8 the rest of the way for the nine-point win.
The Broncos did pull within three points when Milt Mobley hit a three-pointer with 43.7 seconds left, but Winner answered with two free throws and a 48-43 Flyers lead.
Luebke then hit two more free throws and Russell Moeller hit one for a 51-43 lead with 27 seconds left in the game.
“Ryan Winner had a tremendous ball game for us tonight,” Westrick said. “He’s a junior and one of our least-experienced people and he stepped up and kept us in the game.”
Winner was the only Marion Local player that took more than one field goal attempt and finished at 50-percent shooting from the field in the game.
“I was shooting around today at the gym and I was feeling it I guess,” Winner said with a laugh.
Winner also keyed the Flyers’ success on the offensive glass, where he had five offensive rebounds.
“That’s what a player has to do, a player listens and he has to go over the scouting report and put it in his head and carry it over to the floor,” Westrick said.
For the game, the Flyers had 13 offensive rebounds and they outboarded the Broncos, 33-32.
“We knew they struggled boxing out somewhat, they crash hard on offense but we knew anytime you can get more possessions then your opponents then you have a good shot at coming out ahead,” said Luebke who led the Flyers with 12 rebounds.
Another key was shutting down Mobley in the second half. The Broncos’ inside star had 12 points at the break and was a force in the paint, but the Flyers were able to hold him in check the final 16 minutes as he scored just six points after halftime.
“He hurt us early (Mobley), I think he had 12 of their first 17 (points), but the second half we found 21 (Brooks) and if we weren’t on 21 then we were packing it in on them,” Luebke said. “Definitely our second-half adjustments came up big for us.”
Brooks was the only other Broncos player in double figures scoring with 13 points, but he did so on 4-of-16 shooting.
“I just think they made more plays towards the end of the game and they executed better at the end of the game,” Winston said. “We didn’t take care of the ball around the perimeter as well as we would have wanted to and we had some people taking some ill-advised shots. That’s what we talked about, but they’re 17- and 18-year-old kids and sometimes they have a mind set of having to do things a certain way, but I’m extremely proud of them and they did a great job. I don’t think they overachieved but I think they did what they were supposed to do and we were right where we were supposed to be at.”
Moeller finished with 10 points for the Flyers and five rebounds while Adam Kremer chipped in seven points, four rebounds and five steals.
The Flyers now look to continue their defense of their 2002-2003 state title when they face Sebring McKinley Friday at 11 a.m. at the Value City Schottenstein Center on the campus of The Ohio State University.
Marion Local improves to 17-9 while Jefferson ends its season at 19-7.