It was a battle, but Fort Loramie broke out of its mini-slump with a big third quarter and a dominating defensive performance in the second half to keep its share of the lead in the Shelby County League.
Anna – The Anna Rockets and Fort Loramie Redskins both had plenty of things to play for when the schools met for the 173rd time Friday night at Anna High School.
The Redskins, riding high at the end of 2016 with a 7-0 record, had dropped two straight, albeit to outstanding teams (Russia and Versailles). Corey Britton’s team still shared the league lead with Russia, but could hardly afford another loss in the opening game of the second round of league play.
After winning 5 of 6 games, Anna had its own problems. The Rockets had dropped 3 of 4, and would virtually be eliminated from the league race with another loss. Plus, the Rockets wanted to atone for opening night, when Loramie scored an easy 54-29.
Then there was just the fact that it was Anna-Fort Loramie, always one of the most intense rivalries in the area. And, it was Loramie coach Britton’s birthday and he had plenty of family and friends on hand to help celebrate.
You can imagine that they did celebrate after Loramie broke out of its slump with a big second half to down the Rockets 51-44 before a standing room only crowd. Loramie stays tied with Russia for the SCL lead at 6-1, a game ahead of Fairlawn. The win cuts Anna’s lead all-time in the series to 89-84, and marks the first time in 12 years that the Redskins have swept the Rockets in both girls and boys basketball in the same season.
“We just needed to play a little bit better,” said Britton after losing his trademark tie. “We executed and really played well defensively in the second half. The kids really played hard tonight and that was what was lacking last Friday (a 55-43 loss at Russia).”
“We were right there for three quarters,” Anna coach Nate Barhorst said after the Rockets dropped to 6-6 overall and 3-4 in the league. “They hit some big shots in the second half that caused some separation and we didn’t respond well when they switched to man defensively.”
As has been their habit of late, the Redskins got off to a slow start. A Wyatt Bensman three gave the Rockets their biggest lead of the night at 17-11 midway through the second quarter. The Redskins responded with a 7-0 run, capped by a Dillon Braun three that gave the Redskins their first lead two minutes before halftime.
Anna answered with a couple of threes from 5-10 junior Mason Platfoot, and the home team took a 25-23 lead to the locker room.
After the teams traded hoops to start the second half, the Redskins took control with a 16-5 run. With Anna up 32-29, Braun completed a 3 point play the old-fashioned way to tie the score, then had a steal and layup to give Loramie the lead for good. After an Anna miss, Cody Gasson found himself wide open on the right-wing and buried a three, and suddenly the Redskins led 37-32. Anna never got closer than 4 the rest of the night.
That was the biggest shot of the game,” concurred Britton. “Especially since he struggled earlier. It was a monster shot that gave us a little breathing room. We got contributions from a lot of guys tonight and when we do that we are tough to defend.”
“That was a big shot,” said Barhorst. “That gave them some separation, and we had to play catch-up after that. We couldn’t keep the momentum offensively, and they are a tough team to play from behind.”
Braun scored 9 of his team-high 16 points in the third quarter for the Redskins, 6-7 junior Tyler Siegel had a pair of key fourth quarter hoops and finished with 14, and Evan Berning sank four straight free throws down the stretch and finished with 10.
Platfoot finished with 4 threes and led the Rockets with 12 points, but Bensman, the Rockets leading scorer, struggled all night and managed just 10.
Fort Loramie was 19-40 for 48% from the floor, while Anna managed just 14 of 42 for 33%. The Rockets made 7 three pointers, but needed 23 attempts to do so, while Loramie was 3 of 12 behind the arc. After starting 4 of 10 at the line, the Redskins finished 10 of 16, while Anna was 9 of 14.
“We had some shots tonight that we normally hit that didn’t go down,” Barhorst explained. “I think our kids got down a little bit when the shots didn’t fall, and that wears you down. Wyatt struggled tonight and we rely on him. Sometimes that’s what happens.”
The Redskins out-rebounded the Rockets 25-21 and both teams took care of the ball, each finishing with 10 turnovers.
Barhorst talked about the Rockets recent struggles.
“First off, we are playing some really good teams (the recent losses have been to Versailles, Fairlawn, Marion Local and Loramie). We are still a really young team, and we are still looking for a leader when adversity hits. We aren’t far off, but we just aren’t there yet where we can overcome that adversity.”
The atmosphere was incredible from the opening tip, and Barhorst acknowledged the Rockets student section.
“That was the best student section we have had in a long, long time. They were loud, they were boisterous, they were fanatic, they were great. Our kids love playing in that environment and it’s a treat for everyone that comes to the game.”
“This is such a tough place to play,” complimented Britton. “Having games in this environment, with a big hostile crowd, gets us ready for tournament. We just stepped back the last couple of days and talked about handling our business. Don’t worry about outside influences, where we are in the standings, what the record is. Just go back to playing Fort Loramie basketball with the 12 guys that we have and make sure that we are ready to play. I don’t think I did a very good job of that the last week and a half.
“We still are a work in progress,” Britton said as he headed out for his birthday celebration. “We moved up a freshman (Nick Brandewie) to see if we can get him in the mix, and Austin Siegel was fighting the flu all week. So this was a good one. It could have been one where we make excuses but our kids fought through it and give them a lot of credit. That was the team that played the first month of the season.”