What already looked like a wide-open, unpredictable Shelby County League race may have another contender after Anna took out co-leader Russia on the Rockets home floor.
Anna – Heading into the third week of the Shelby County League race, few were considering the Anna Rockets as a contender.
While Fort Loramie and Russia each were unbeaten and a game in front of Jackson Center and Houston, the Rockets under 6th year head coach Nate Barhorst already had two league losses following a setback at Jackson Center Tuesday night.
While Fort Loramie enjoyed the night off, and Jackson Center and Fairlawn won to keep pace, the Rockets stated their case as a contender with a 55-47 win over Russia.
Sonny Fulks hates the word, and I won’t call this an upset. The Rockets are always tough at home, and after the midway point of the first quarter, were clearly the better team, AT LEAST ON THIS NIGHT.
Junior Wyatt Bensman scored 17 of his 28 points in the second half, including 6 straight from the foul line, as the Rockets improved to 3-2 overall and 2-2 in the league.
The Raiders, now 4-2 overall and 2-1 in the SCL, shot just 34% from the floor, and with the game on the line in the fourth quarter, went 2 of 12 from the floor and 5 of 11 from the free throw line.
“Coming off Tuesday night’s loss to Jackson Center, I was very pleased with the way we played,” said Anna coach and former Rocket standout Nate Barhorst. “We got a great defensive effort from Frilling and Bensman on their two best offensive players, and when we got into foul trouble, our bench players really stepped up and delivered. Just very pleased with the all-around effort.”
“For some reason, we passed up open shots for shots with hands in our faces,” said Russia head coach Spencer Cordonnier. “They weren’t doing anything to keep us from getting it inside, but we didn’t get it in there enough. We almost looked like we were confused, and that’s on me. I told the kids after the game, I’ll take this one on my shoulders.”
Russia broke on top first, claiming an early 11-5 lead. Mason Platfoot came off the bench to hit a three and spark a quick run for the Rockets, and the game was tied at 12 after one.
Bensman began to assert himself in the second quarter, scoring 7 points, and Platfoot added 5 more as the Rockets assumed a 31-25 lead at the break. A 5-10 junior, Platfoot finished the night with 10 points.
Anna threatened to take control in the third quarter, but the Raiders stayed close behind the efforts of another non-starter, Drew Poling. He scored 6 points in the period, and the Raiders trailed just 41-37 after three.
As Cordonnier alluded to above, the Raiders looked uncomfortable all night offensively, and that discomfort increased in the fourth quarter. Russia went the first 6 minutes, 33 seconds of the quarter without a basket, and the Rockets slowly built the lead to nine points.
Then with less than half-a-minute to play, and a chance to cut the lead to four, Russia junior Jack Dapore missed all three free throws after being fouled in the act of shooting a trey. Bensman counted from the line at the other end, and Anna had it’s much needed victory.
“Our kids believe they can play that way defensively all the time,” Barhorst said, referring to the fourth quarter effort. “We are doing a lot of switching defenses, and our kids did a great job communicating tonight.”
While Bensman and Platfoot led the way for the Rockets, Russia got 13 points from Dapore, and 12 from Cole Tebbe.
“We felt this game could turn our season around,” said Bensman outside the Anna locker-room. “We are a young team, and we knew it couldn’t get worse than the Loramie game (a 54-29 loss in the opener). We had a good week of practice and came out tonight and got the job done.”
“This is a turning point for our team. Our confidence is so much higher now. We were down on ourselves a little bit after the Loramie game. But we showed tonight that we can play with the best teams in the league.”
“Wyatt is the kind of guy we need to step for us, and he sure did tonight,” praised Barhorst. “He made some big free throws down the stretch, and every time we needed a basket, it seemed like he got it for us. He really showed his true colors tonight.”
There was a scary moment in the fourth quarter when Tebbe and Anna’s Seth Roe, a burly 6-5 sophomore, collided under the Raiders basket. Tebbe was flat on his back for several minutes, but walked off the floor on his own power with a bandage under his chin.
“We have to find some consistency offensively,” Cordonnier said with a sigh. “We have to figure out why we were confused tonight, and get it fixed. Plus, free throw shooting hurt us again late in the game, and we just got murdered on the boards, like we do every time we come up here. When you do things like that, you are not going to win basketball games. You saw it tonight. We didn’t win.
“Give Anna credit. They played well. They were the aggressors, as we knew they would be. We simply did not respond the way we should have. We’ll watch the tape, fix what we need to, and move on.”
The Rockets were 17 of 43 from the floor for 40%, 4 of 9 from the arc for 44% and 16 of 25 from the line for 64%. The Raiders were 13 of 38 from the floor for 34%, a horrid 3 of 14 behind the arc, and made just 18 of 31 from the line as their free throw shooting continued to be a significant problem.
The Rockets did own a substantial edge on the boards 32-18, and had 12 turnovers to the Raiders 9.
Noting that the Rockets are just two weeks removed from that embarrassing loss to Fort Loramie, Barhorst was asked what has changed for the Rockets.
“We had a lot of kids that had never been on the big stage before. We thought there was a lot of potential, but when we turned on the lights for the first time, put fans in the stands and made it official, we had the deer in the headlight kind of look. It was a wakeup call for sure. But since then, they have responded.
“We came into the locker-room after the game tonight and told the kids that this is what you are capable of every night. We saw it in the summer. We knew the potential was there. I actually thought it might take a little longer than the third week of the season, but the ability is there. This is a big win for us, and we are only going to get better.”