Top seeds set to meet for a fourth time
DELTA - The top two seeds in the Class 1A, District 2 Tournament both advanced to the championship game on Tuesday at Delta High School.
Top-seeded Bell City defeated No. 4 Advance 74-63 while No. 2 Oran held off No. 3 Bernie 53-49.
Bell City (23-5) and Oran (21-6) will meet for the fourth time this year in the championship game tomorrow at 7:30 p.m.
It's Bell City's first title game appearance since 1984. Oran last made the championship in 1999.
"We're excited to be there," said Oran head coach Mitch Wood. "Bernie seeded us two and Richland seeded us three so evidently some people didn't think we'd get there. We're tickled to be there -- this is what we've played for all year long. I think we'll be ready to play basketball."
Early in Tuesday's game Oran didn't look ready.
The Eagles trailed by as much as 14 but battled back and were able to pull out the win.
"When you get to this level if you play a bad game and win it's a super thing," said Wood. "But Bernie had something to do with that. They play a good zone and they're a good offensive club."
Bernie (19-7) led 18-5 after one quarter led by an impressive overall performance by 6-foot-3 Chad Wooldridge. The junior contributed 16 points in the opening period and had a nice assist on the only other basket.
But it was all downhill from there for the Mules.
"I don't want to say they were taking us for granted, but I know they were really looking forward to playing Bell City again," said Bernie head coach Morris Karnes.
Oran got back into the game by finding an answer for Wooldridge. He only scored nine points the rest of the game to finish with 25 points for the night.
"In the first quarter we had (Nathan) Seyer on him, who is our best defensive player," said Wood. "But he's used to guarding the ball out top. So we switched Ryne (Wood) on him and for some reason he did a lot better job. He played a lot better defense tonight on that kid. I thought that was the turning point when we shut him down."
Wooldridge only scored two points in the middle two quarters which was just enough to let the Eagles back in the game.
"We turned the ball over too many times," said Karnes. "We started off very well in the first quarter but I knew that wasn't going to last the whole ballgame. We should've held on to that first half lead a lot longer than what we did."
Trailing 22-7, Oran closed the first half on a 13-4 run to cut the gap to 26-20 at halftime.
Just 36 seconds into the third quarter, Bernie's Marcus Johnson, who was playing on an injured ankle from the outset, picked up his fourth foul, sending him to the bench.
"He had an injury 15 seconds into the game," said Karnes. "He never was the same the rest of the night. I took him out two or three times because he couldn't move."
Oran took advantage, scoring the first nine points of the quarter to lead 29-26.
"That was big," said Wood of Johnson's fouls. "The two games I've seen (Bernie), he's a player that plays out of control a lot. We felt like if our post players didn't get two charges apiece tonight then we weren't doing a very good job defensively. I'm not sure what they ended up with but when we got them they were big fouls."
The Mules countered with back-to-back 3-pointers by Darius Wooldridge and Robert Johnson to lead 32-29, but it was shortlived.
Oran followed up with six straight points, including Matt Seyer's third 3-pointer of the night to take the lead for good.
"I told (Matt Seyer) I was going to put his butt on the bench if he didn't shoot the ball," said Wood. "We wanted him to shoot the ball and he did."
Oran led 39-35 entering the fourth quarter. The Mules cut the lead to two points four different times but couldn't get any closer.
Bernie's last chance came when Chad Wooldridge tipped in a missed shot which would've made it a two-point game. But the official called the foul on Wooldridge for going over the back, which sent Joey Bickings to the line.
"I thought (Wooldridge) got one for us late that should've put him on the free throw line but they called a foul on him," said Karnes. "How that was a foul on him I have no earthly idea."
Bickings made both free throws with 32 seconds left to make it 51-45.
The Eagles made 6-of-8 from the foul line in the final minute to ice the game.
Nathan Seyer led Oran with 16 points followed by Patrick Friga's 15 and Matt Seyer's 11.
Marcus Johnson had just five while the Mules' Robert Johnson finished with just five also.
"We knew coming in that Robert would have a tough time tonight," said Karnes. "It takes him a while to get his shot off. He's got to have some time and I knew Oran wasn't going to give him the time to do that.
"We haven't had anybody all year play us that type of defense. We've had people play us man to man but not out denying the ball as much as they do. They do a good job of getting out on the wings and denying the basketball. We haven't seen that all year."
Bell City led by as much as 18 in the fourth quarter to eliminate a tough Advance (18-9) team. The Cubs never trailed in the game and their lead was never in jeopardy.
Bell City led by nine points in the first quarter before the Hornets cut the lead to 16-13 at the end of the period.
Advance tied the score at 16-16 on a Jared Ritter 3-pointer to start the second quarter but the Cubs went on a 12-2 run to lead 28-18.
Advance cut the lead to 35-30 right before the half but the Cubs' Kenyon Wright nailed a 3-pointer from the corner at the halftime buzzer to push the lead back to 38-30.
Bell City kept a sizable lead throughout the third quarter, leading by as much as 14 before the Hornets had it back to 55-48 on a Cain Kelley basket entering the fourth quarter.
Kelley finished with 19 points for the Hornets.
"Cain finished his senior year excellently," said Advance head coach Jim Hall. "He kept us in the game, but a lot of what Kelley got was off of Ritter's penetration and feeds. But Cain really did a nice job."
Ritter finished with a game-high 20 points, but six came late in the final two minutes when the outcome wasn't in doubt.
Andrew Jenkins, who scored 28 on Tuesday against Scott County Central, only had 12 points before fouling out.
"We really wanted to get out on Ritter -- he's a good shooter and so is Jenkins," said Heeb. "A point we made was that if they were going to beat us then we wanted to make them go inside because their better players play on the wings."
The Cubs scored the first six points of the fourth quarter to open up a 61-48 lead with 5:00 left in the game.
The Hornets never got closer than 10 the rest of the way.
"They're better athletes than we are -- they have better quickness and better jumpers," said Hall. "We got beat tonight because we got beat on the offensive boards. We got beat 11 and probably gave them 20 points off missed shots that they rebounded and scored. If we limited them to one shot then we probably win. They're just very good athletes."
The main three athletes were junior Eric Henry (19 points), sophomore Dominitrix Johnson (19 points) and senior C.J. Hadley (15 points).
"They really played well," said Heeb. "C.J. Hadley was all over the floor tonight. Eric was in foul trouble and had to do some other things and I thought Dominitrix was the key because with Eric off the floor, they tried to come and pressure us more and he just did a good job of taking care of the ball. I thought we kept our composure when Eric sat out a long time."
Also putting together a solid game was senior Jason Rampley, who had 10 points including a pair of 3-pointers.
"I thought Jason Rampley and Luke Phillips were awesome and might have been the difference in the game," said Heeb. "If Dom, C.J. and Eric will play like they did tonight, we're tough to beat. If Jason and Luke play like they did tonight then we might be impossible to beat."
The Cubs have only lost two games since the University High School Christmas Tournament, both to Class 3A Dexter.
Bell City and Oran have met three times this year with the Eagles winning two of the matchups. The Cubs won the last meeting 52-44 on Feb. 1 with Oran leading scorer Ryne Wood out with a broken nose.
"We haven't lost to a 1A team since Dec. 27 (against Oran) so I think they feel pretty confident right now," said Bell City head coach David Heeb. "But they know they're going to have their hands full. Our thinking right now is that if we come out and play hard then we've got a chance to beat anybody."