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Cool under pressure, Tigers oust Rockets

WL-Salem rallies from six-point second-half deficit to beat Anna 47-38 in sectional final


ABOVE: West Liberty-Salem’s Ben Burden drives to the basket in Friday’s game against Anna. FRONT PAGE PHOTO: West Liberty-Salem’s Connor Woods tries to get past Anna’s Chandon Williams during Friday’s Division III sectional final at the University of Dayton. (EXAMINER PHOTOS | MATT HAMMOND)

DAYTON — West Liberty-Salem’s four senior basketball players refused to be beaten down by the struggles they endured earlier in their careers.

Instead, they used those hard times as motivation.

The Tigers put an exclamation mark on their amazing turnaround Friday, rallying for a 47-38 win over Anna in the Division III sectional championship game at the University of Dayton.

WL-Salem, which went 6-15 last winter, is now 20-5 and advances to its first district championship game since 2005.

“This feels great,” said gritty WL-Salem senior guard Grant Burden, who scored 10 points. “Our goal from the beginning was to win a district championship. We had to find a way to win this game to give ourselves a chance to accomplish that goal.”

The Tigers will play topranked Cincinnati Summit Country Day at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in the district championship at Dayton Arena.

“I am really thrilled for our seniors,” said WL-Salem head coach Aaron Hollar. “Going from six wins to 20 is a tribute to those guys and the way they hung in there. They have been through some tough times.”

Having weathered trying times in the past, the veteran Tigers have become a battletested bunch that does not get rattled under pressure.

That was evident Tuesday when WL-Salem fell behind nine points against Waynesville in the second half before roaring back for a 23-point win.

The Tigers showed off their poise again Friday after a slow start against the Rockets.

WL-Salem missed every shot it took from the field in the first quarter and trailed 12-4 after the opening eight minutes.

“I think we had some jitters in the first quarter,” said Burden. “We were able to settle down in the second quarter. We just stuck to our game plan.”

Shots started falling for the Tigers in the second period as they outscored the Rockets 13-7 to close to within two points (19-17) at halftime.

“I told our guys at halftime that I was really proud of them for the way they played defense in the first half,” said Hollar. “When you are struggling offensively, sometimes you let that bother you on offense but we didn’t let that happen. Our defense kept us in the game.”

Anna pushed its lead to six points with a 4-0 spurt to start the second half. However, the Tigers did not panic.

Senior Travis Mayse scored four points in a 7-0 run that put WL-Salem up 24-23 with 3:58 left in the period.

The Tigers, who beat Anna 53-50 in a regular-season game, held a three-point cushion (31- 28) heading into the fourth quarter.

Standout senior forward Landon Hormann helped WLSalem keep the momentum in the final stanza.

Hormann scored six points in the first two minutes of the fourth quarter as the Tigers opened up a 32-26 lead.

Anna then rattled off five straight points to cut the Tigers’ lead to one (37-36) with 4:15 remaining.

WL-Salem answered, getting two clutch baskets from sophomore Connor Woods to push its lead to five points (41-36) at the 3:20 mark.

After Christian Williams scored a bucket for Anna, Woods buried two free throws with 2:01 left and the Tigers made four more free throws in the final 1:01 to put the game away.

“Connor is one of our younger players, but he hit some key shots and a couple of big free throws to give us a little bit of a cushion in the fourth quarter,” said Hollar.

The Tigers were brilliant at the charity stripe, finishing 18-of-19 for a 95-percent effort.

“We have been a pretty good free-throw shooting team this season and it was good to see the guys continue that tonight,” said Hollar.

Hormann was plagued by foul trouble, but still scored a game-high 16 points. Woods and Mayse added eight apiece.

Joel Albers led Anna (11-14) with 13 points.


ANNA (11-14)

Bensman 1 2-3 4; Chr. Williams 2 2-3 6; Robinson 1 1-3 3; Boyd 1 0-0 3; Cha. Williams 2 2-4 7; Ihle 1 0-0 2; Albers 6 1- 2 13. Totals: 14 8-15 38.

WL-SALEM (20-5)

Bailey 1 0-0 3; Mayse 2 4-4 8; B. Burden 0 2-2 2; Woods 2 4-4 8; G. Burden 4 0-1 10; Horman 4 8-8 16. Totals: 13 18- 19 47.

Rockets 12 7 9 10 — 38

Tigers 4 13 14 16 — 47

Three pointers: Anna 2 (Boyd, Cha. Williams); WL-Salem 3 (G. Burden 2, Bailey). Team fouls: Anna 17; WL-Salem 16.


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