Freezing outside, the Anna Rockets and Marion Local warmed things up inside with a classic effort, a not-so-classic finish, and a memorable outcome.
Anna – The car thermometer read 8 degrees – a frigid Saturday night in Anna.
Traffic was sparse, sidewalks were empty. A lot of people stayed home by the fire, comfortable with watching the Wild Card round of the playoffs. Others were at the gym, eschewing football for communal warmth…and basketball. Marion Local was in town to take on the local Rockets.
If football is what you do at Marion…then basketball is surely the tradition at schools like Anna and the Shelby County League. Yes, the Rockets have played football for a couple of decades; and compete for conference honors with Marion Local in the MAC. But ask the bluebloods of the community. Anna is a basketball town.
So incentive is rife when Marion comes calling, winners of those nine state football titles, and even a couple of basketball titles in 1975 and 2003. The Flyers are always competitive, even in backgammon. They play to win.
And of late they play to shut down opposing offenses. Sporting a 6-2 record entering Saturday night’s game, on consecutive outings they had held Bradford and New Bremen to 17 and 24 points, respectively. Coach Nate Barhorst and the Rockets took that as a challenge.
The Rockets were coming of a frustrating league loss on Friday to league rival Fairlawn, a ten-point affair that saw them unable to break through against the league’s top scorer and irresistable force, Nate Lessing. And the Rockets’ own complement to Lessing, hot-shooting Wyatt Bensman, got them off on the right foot Saturday night by hitting his first two shots, both three-pointers.
But the game settled then into a battle of wills, back and forth, neither team able to mount an insurmountable lead. Marion led 18-16 at the end of one; 33-31 at the half. Anna was getting contributions from Bensman (8 pts) and Mason Platfoot (7 pts) and Griffin Doseck (5 pts), but they could not keep the superior size of Tyler Mescher (12 pts) and Nathan Bruns (10 pts) away from the rim.
“We found some matchups we liked inside,” said the Flyers Kurt Goettemoeller. “Tonight you saw what Nathan Bruns is capable of doing after his knee injury; and Tyler just does what Tyler does.”
The third quarter was a replay, one team would go up by three…the other to come right back and retake the lead. By the end of the frame the lead would have changed hands six times; by the end of the game, eight times. And Marion still led by a point, 49-48.
And so it continued. Anna’s Austin Fogt came off the bench and hit some bombs…huge shots from three-point range that gave the Rockets a lift and helped them back from a five-point Marion lead.
It came down to a four-point deficit, 61-57, with 30 seconds remaining…and Anna with the ball. Inexplicably, Fogt was left all alone in the corner. Wyatt Bensman found him, Fogt got off a rainbow attempt with Bruns rushing to contest it that touched nothing but net…61-60.
A Marion turnover gave the ball back to Anna, and for a moment – on a night that had seen both the freshman and JV games played into overtime – there must have been a foreboding that the varsity event would follow suit. It is, after all, a basketball town.
With 2.3 seconds remaining Anna had the ball out of bounds under its own rim. The teams lined up with plenty of jostling for position, the Rockets preparing to screen for a shooter’s advantage. But as the ball was thrown in one of the officials whistled a foul – on Anna’s Griffin Doseck, who was bent over at the foul line, bleeding from his right eye.
The crowd reacted; and Anna coach Nate Barhorst went nuts.
“I asked the ref how can our guy be bloodied and we get the foul?” said Barhorst later. “The other guy obviously hit him with an elbow fighting through the screen.”
It wasn’t the way it should have ended. But it did. Nathan Bruns went to the other end and hit a pair of free throws, his 18th and 19th points of the night, to make the score 63-60.
Still, with 2.1 seconds remaining, Anna had the ball out and 94 feet to navigate to effect a tie. Wyatt Bensman got the ball and from 65 feet heaved a shot that appeared to be right on line with the hoop…but it was just short!
The game was over, and those who had stayed for all three games must have gone home believing that no $6 for a ticket was ever better spent.
How close was it? Too close to lose, if you were Barhorst and the Rockets. Marion made 26 of 53 shots for 49%. Anna connected on 23 of 51 for 45%.
Neither team was great from behind the arc – Marion just 5 of 17 (29%), and Anna made 6 of 25 for 24%, thanks to Bensman and Austin Fogt, who finished with 12 and 16 points, respectively.
Tyler Mescher finished with 18 ‘bruising’ points for Marion. And Bruns, who caught fire for 7 fourth quarter points, had a game-high 19. Bensman finished with 12 points, and Austin Fogt, for his heroics in the second half, led the Rockets with 16.
It was that close. Free throw percentages were almost identical (60%). Rebounds (32 to 28), second chance points (13 each), and fouls.
But the one glaring difference…was turnovers. Marion forced Anna to turn the ball 11 times to its 4; and stole the basketball 10 times to Anna’s 3, a fact that Barhorst had to acknowledge, despite a “phantom” foul call that seemed to turn the outcome of the game.
“I can’t fault my kids because they gave 110% effort all the way through,” he said outside his locker room. “There were some times there when we turned the ball over and that hurt us – some ill-advised decisions that we needed to do a better job on. But how can I fault the kids? Austin came through and hit some huge shots off the bench and that was a huge spark. We were just going against big, physical Marion team that had a great tandem down low with Mescher and Bruns.
“We did a better job on Mescher in the second half by changing some things up and forcing him to his left side, but then Bruns took over late. He’s not just a great inside player, he can go inside-out, he’s long and lanky, and he can get to the rim on your quickly.”
And as for the questionable foul?
“I’m still baffled about that. He obviously threw the elbow trying to get through the screen, but we get the foul. I thought it was a ‘no call’, but it is what it is. If this was the NBA I’d probably get fined $10,000,” he said with a laugh.
And if there was a fine levied there would surely be a community campaign to take care of it. The conclusion to such a drama-packed game was that bizarre.
It was a disappointing outcome for the fact of the effort, the closeness of the game, and the obvious respect one has for a perennial state champion in any sport. It was Marion, after all, and the personal stakes for a non-conference opponent could never be higher.
“It was the kind of game that puts us in a good competitive position for the second half of our league season,” added Barhorst, as he headed for the door and home. “These kinds of games get you ready for the tournament. Us and Loramie probably have the two toughest schedules in the Shelby County League in terms of non-conference opponents. This was our fifth MAC team in the first half and we have St. Henry next week. Our kids got battle-tested tonight.”
A test, for a number of reasons, not soon forgotten. It’s hard to forget a ‘phantom’.