By Gary R. Rasberry
ADA -- After a district semifinal where points were at a premium, the St. Henry Redskins played at a much different tempo in the Division III district final on Saturday against a speedy Ottawa-Glandorf team that likes to employ a pressure defense.
The Redskins came up with a solid all-around game, breaking the Titan pressure and taking control of the game in the fourth quarter to win the Division III district title with a 67-50 win at the King Horn Center on the campus of Ohio Northern University.
The Redskins (20-3) advance to the regional for the second time in three seasons on Wednesday to play Johnstown-Monroe at 6:30 p.m. at Anderson Arena at Bowling Green State University. Monroe beat Africentric on Friday to advance from the Columbus district.
The main concern for the Redskins against the Titans was to find a way past the Titans press, which forced nearly 20 turnovers a game during the regular season.
The Redskins handled it calmly by using their size, bringing 6-9 Kurt Huelsman and 6-7 Toby Boeckman up to take passes, then passing over the Titans to get the ball over midcourt and into the offense. The end result was that the Redskins turned it over just nine times in the ballgame. "They feed so much off their transition offense," said St. Henry coach Joe Niekamp. "That comes from their pressure defense. They do such a great job running down the floor. Obviously, we stressed the fact that we wanted to take care of the ball, value every possession and try to end every possession with a good shot. (Nine turnovers) are pretty good for us.
"Even when we were along the sidelines, which a lot of times isn't a good place to be, we got Putty (Andy Puthoff), Mitch (Niekamp) and Kurt that can kind of take on that trap and get the ball delivered to the open man. That took away a little of their defensive pressure."
Titans coach Josh Leslie didn't argue that point.
"We pressed and trapped, but they had the ability with their size to pass over us," said Leslie. "We were close on a lot of steals, we just didn't quite get it."
The first turning point for St. Henry came when O-G led 24-18 with 4:38 left in the second quarter. From there, the Redskins scored 12 straight points over a span of 4:19 in the quarter. Mitch Niekamp nailed a pair of layups with Kurt Huelsman and Zack Thobe adding two-pointers of their own during the run. At the half, St. Henry led 30-25.
The Titans cut it to 30-29 at the start of the third quarter, but the Redskins responded with Andy Puthoff and Mitch Niekamp sinking three-pointers to push the lead to 36-30. The teams traded points the rest of the quarter with St. Henry still holding on to a 42-38 lead with eight minutes left to play.
With Huelsman, Boeckman and Niekamp trying to stave off foul trouble with time on the bench, other Redskins came up big. Thobe, the hero of the last two Redskins' games, sank a three-pointer to make it 45-38. After Matt Fought hit a jumper, Josh Werling stepped up with his lone two-pointer of the game to make it a seven-point lead for St. Henry.
The Titans were forced to start fouling to slow down the Redskins, a good idea at the time considering that the Redskins were just 1-of-6 from the foul line in the first three quarters.
The plan, however, did not come to fruition as the Redskins were 11-of-14 from the stripe in the fourth quarter. Boeckman was especially potent, making seven of his eight tries in the quarter. The tosses were needed as Nathan Pothast hit a trio of three-pointers in the quarter to get the Titans as close as 59-50 with 53 seconds left.
By then, the Redskins were in control. Boeckman was almost perfect from the line down the stretch as both teams were able to clear the benches in the waning moments. Ryan Wehrkamp wrapped up a great game with a three-pointer at the buzzer for the Redskins.
"Going into the fourth quarter, we were down four points," said Leslie. "You'd think you're right where you need to be. It just seemed that whenever they needed a shot, they made one. A loose ball on the ground, pick it up and hit a three. ... We never got a run to get close enough to make a serious charge of it.
"Especially in the second half, I don't remember many chances where we missed one and got it back. Especially in the fourth quarter, we didn't. Down seven or eight, you have to foul to get back into it. What's the difference between getting beat by one or 17? You have to foul and just to hope they miss a free throw."
After having trouble offensively against Crestview on Thursday, the Redskins had four players in double figures. Huelsman led the way with 18 points and 12 rebounds. Thobe and Boeckman each added 11 with Niekamp coming off the bench with 10 points. Puthoff finished with six points and eight assists.
"Coach told us a lot about their press and to attack the middle because you'll get numbers," said Puthoff. "That's what we've been doing all year. That's my goal, to get the ball to the big guys."
"Coming off the game the other night, it was a win but with 29 points, it was important that we value every possession," said Huelsman. "We tried to finish off every possession, every single play we had. We set the tone."
Coach Niekamp was happy to see everyone get into the act.
"Everyone was a little looser tonight," said coach Niekamp. "They knew this was going to be a game where there was going to be a lot of possessions. It was going to be an active game. Everyone was looking forward to that."
Garrett Lauf led the Titans with 14 points. Nathan Pothast finished with 11 off the bench with Jordan Pothast adding 10 points.