By Ryan Hines
ADA -- St. Henry head coach Joe Niekamp is blessed with a team that's talented enough and capable of beating opponents in a variety of ways.
Whether it's offense or defense, inside or outside, the Redskins have the ability to dominate a game.
When St. Henry is able to play well in all facets of the game, well, it's usually bad news for the opponent.
Liberty Center (16-6) found that out firsthand on Thursday night as St. Henry defeated the Tigers, 50-29, in Division III district semifinal action at Ohio Northern University.
St. Henry, now 20-2 on the season, moves on to district finals action on Saturday at 7 p.m. for a rematch with Archbold. The Redskins beat the Blue Streaks last season en route to the state title. Archbold (21-1) survived a scare in the first game of the evening, posting a 50-49 win over Midwest Athletic Conference champion Delphos St. John's. MAC player of the year, Chad Reynolds missed an off-balance jumper from the free-throw line as the buzzer sounded.
The exciting finish of the first game at ONU was certainly not repeated in Game 2, as St. Henry took control early and never let up.
St. Henry's Kurt Huelsman scored four points and teammate Jared Stammen hit a trey to give the Redskins a quick 7-0 lead. Liberty Center fought back with a pair of threes as Kasey Bodenbender and Ryan Bonner hit treys to leave the Tigers trailing just 7-6 after the first quarter.
The Redskins shot 2-of-11 from the field in the first period but the shooting stroke certainly heated up in the second quarter for St. Henry.
At the 5:31 mark of the second quarter, St. Henry reeled off a 13-0 run to take a commanding 20-8 lead just before halftime.
Liberty Center turned the ball over on five straight possessions and St. Henry cashed in by hitting seven straight shots from the floor during the early and middle portions of the second period.
"We knew that they weren't going to be in any kind of a hurry on offense so we tried to get the pace in our favor by pressuring them fullcourt and I think that it got to them a couple of times," said Niekamp. "We felt like we would get a few opportunities to trap and maybe get a few deflections off our press. The kids did a nice job of being aggressive on the press and I think that it helped speed the game up a few times."
"We knew that they were going to try and slow the game down but we knew that we had to just stick to our gameplan and we would be fine," said Huelsman. "
The Redskins hit 8-of-9 from the field in the second period and most of the offense came from Kurt Huelsman and Ryan Ranly. Huelsman had six and Ranly had four points to spark the game-turning St. Henry run.
The third period was more of the same for St. Henry.
St. Henry continued its torrid shooting touch from the second quarter by hitting on 6-of-8 shots from the field in the third quarter to go up 39-19 over Liberty Center.
It wasn't just a strong offensive performance, though, as the Redskins' size and aggression on defense made scoring a tough task for the Tigers all night long.
The Tigers shot just 1-of-7 from the field in the third quarter and just 24 percent (8-of-33) for the game.
"Their size and their angles make it difficult to beat their pressure and their defense in the halfcourt," said Liberty Center head coach Dave Grim. "Not only do they have size, but they are also very talented and well-coached. It's really difficult to simulate something like that in practice."
The fourth quarter saw both teams empty their benches with the game clearly decided.
Kurt Huelsman led St. Henry with 15 points and seven rebounds while Ranly added 11 points off the bench on perfect 5-of-5 shooting.
"We wanted to get the ball into Kurt and I thought that he was too willing to pass the ball out of the post early on but he began to take the ball at the defense in the second quarter and that was nice to see," said Niekamp. "I thought that Ryan Ranly did a tremendous job off the bench for us tonight. He shot the ball well and did everything well for us."
Ryan Bonner led Liberty Center with a game-high 16 points, including four three-point field goals.
The Blue Jays' strong season came to an abrupt halt when Reynolds' jumper at the buzzer rolled around the rim and out.
Archbold's David Borcherdt had a chance to push the Blue Streak lead to three points with 7.1 seconds left on the clock but missed the front end of a one-and-one opportunity.
Reynolds rebounded the missed free throw and then went one-on-one before the potential game-winning shot rimmed out.
Dan Borcherdt led all scorers for Archbold with 16 points while brother David Borcherdt hit for 10 points. Matt Webb led St. John's with 15 points.
ST. HENRY TICKET INFO -- Tickets for Saturday's Division III district final game against Archbold will be on sale Friday evening in the high school office to season ticket holders from 6:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. and then from 7 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. to the general public. Any remaining tickets will be sold on Saturday at Gels IGA Market until 1 p.m. Adult tickets are $5 and student tickets are $4 with all tickets at the door costing $5.