No. 1 Bell City eliminated pesky fourth-seed Saxony Lutheran 71-55 on Tuesday, while in the nightcap, No. 2 Delta burst the bubble of No. 6 Oran, a first-round upset winner over No. 3 Oak Ridge, with an 80-59 rout.
Bell City (17-9), which used the 2004 district championship as a springboard to a state title, had difficulty shaking Saxony Lutheran, a second-year program.
The Cubs ripped off an 18-2 run to go up 22-8 en route to a 24-12 first-
But, Saxony chipped away, narrowing the margin to seven at 42-35 at halftime.
"The only thing I was disappointed in was that we didn't put them away," said Bell City coach David Heeb. "I told them (Cubs) when we had them down 17 that if we let them come back in it a little bit, they were going to stay around. Sure enough, that's what happened."
Tim Lorenz and Alex Jauch, the Crusaders' double posts, led the comeback. Lorenz scored 11 of his 23 total in the second period. Jauch used his bulk to advantage against the smaller Cubs to score nine of his game-high 25 in the quarter. Jauch and Lorenz each had 15 first-half points.
"Our plan was to take their guards away and take our chances on the inside guys," said Heeb. "It backfired a little bit, but I knew that between the two of them (Lorenz and Jauch), they might have a big game, but it wouldn't be enough to beat us."
Bell City saw its lead dwindle to three on two occasions in the third quarter -- 46-43 and 48-45 -- before a 7-2 run sent them into the final quarter ahead 55-47.
The Cubs ran off another quick run of seven unanswered points to open the fourth quarter and widen the gap to 62-47.
Saxony trimmed the lead to 64-55, but the Cubs wrapped up the quarter and the win with a final 7-0 run.
Bell City's depth -- 11-man rotation -- figured large as coach Heeb substituted fresh bodies throughout the contest against Saxony's starting five and two little-used reserves.
He said, "Our depth is the key because we don't really have guys that are better than their starters across the front line. Man for man we may not match up, but I think one through 10, we're better than anyone around." Bell City's quickness, with its trap and pressure defense, harassed the Crusaders into 24 turnovers.
The offensive catalyst for the Cubs was freshman guard D.D. Gillespie with a team-high 24 points. Gillespie, with penetration, perimeter shooting and even a couple of rebound stickbacks, hit key baskets time after time to ward off the Crusaders.
Another freshman guard Nick Niemczyk also contributed a couple of big baskets in the Cubs' decisive early fourth-quarter run.
"Those two freshmen guards are like ice water," said Heeb. "When its crunch time, just put the ball in their hands and get out of the way."
Bell City won rather handily despite shooting poorly from the field. The Cubs were 23-for-66 (34.8 percent) overall, 5-for-13 (38.4 percent) from 3-point range.
"If you can win this time of the year without shooting well," said Heeb, "that says a lot about the character of your team. If we do shoot it well, we're going to be awfully hard to beat."
Saxony hit 21-of-41 overall (51.2 percent), but managed only two (2-of
-8) 3-pointers. Their prime 3-point threat, Lauren Lueders, was held to no field goals and only two points on the night.
Other leading scorers for Bell City were Jeff Liggins with 13 and Kerry Lasters with 12. Both scored seven first-quarter points to help vault the Cubs to their early lead.
Bell City and Delta meet at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, following the girls championship game between Delta and Oran at 6 p.m.
The young Eagles were no match for a veteran Delta five.
Delta (15-12) waltzed to an 80-59 win to reach its second straight district final.
"We've played them three times and it's hard to beat a team three times in one year," said Delta coach Shawn Kinder. "They played us close once and it was a blowout the first time, so I knew their energy would be there since they played us close one time. I knew we had to meet their intensity level and if we did that, our skill level and experience would be in our favor."
Delta, paced by senior post Kevin Bartels' 10 points, led 19-8 at the conclusion of the opening quarter.
Aaron Kinder's red-hot 15-point second quarter in which he went 3-for-3 from beyond the arc sparked the Bobcats to a 48-20 halftime advantage.
Delta held a 67-37 lead going into the fourth period. Reserves played most of the fourth.
The Bobcats visited the free-throw line 25 times, hitting 17, compared to Oran's 6-of-12 from the stripe.
Bartels and Kinder shared the scoring lead for Delta with 19 apiece. Cody Crowden, Brent Menz and Terrence Below added 13, 12 and 11, respectively.
Oran was led by sophomore Robert Lange with 12 points and Chase Seyer, another sophomore, with 10.
"Delta's a solid, well-coached team," said Oran coach Jason Andrews, whose team fell to 4-19. "It's going to be a battle in the final."
Looking toward the final, Bell City, 1-0 against Delta this season, will be heavy favorites, but that doesn't bother Delta's coach Kinder.
"My kids are very competitive and they like the fact that they're the underdogs," he said. "I think that will give us a little extra boost and I think the pace will be different this time over last year's district (a 67-50 loss)."
Will Bell City's superior depth present a problem to a team with a shorthanded six-man rotation?
Kinder said, "We've played with six or seven two years in a row and I think we've developed the style of play that we need. Subbing is a factor. You do get tired and that's where coach (assistant Nate) Crowden and I have to decide when to use our timeouts and use them wisely. I hope that it won't be a factor, but it does seem to be a factor in some games, especially with the fast pace that Bell City plays at."