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Oak Hill tops Tipton for Class 2A regional title

By CHUCK LANDIS

<2>clandis@chronicle-tribune.com

LAPEL — Oak Hill’s grit was tested throughout Saturday’s Class 2A boys’ basketball regional at Lapel High School, and the Golden Eagles never buckled.

Try as Tipton might to break down the Eagles in the championship game, their resolve was greater and resulted in a 60-45 victory and a trip to the semistate for the third time in school history.

Oak Hill (24-5) joins the 1971 and 2001 teams in advancing to semistate and actually are one of four teams remaining in the 2A tournament. The eighth-ranked Eagles play No. 2 Westview (28-1) at 6 p.m. Saturday at Huntington North High School for the right to play in the state final.

In the semifinal Saturday afternoon, the Eagles exorcised the bad memories of their 2016 regional championship loss to Lapel with a convincing 72-46 victory over the Bulldogs. Three-point shooting — the Eagles were 11-of-17 behind the arc — was the key element to their victory.

"We played two tough physical teams today and it usually comes down to the post, and in the post you get a lot of physicality," said Eagles center Caleb Middlesworth, who scored 42 points in the two games. "Today that was definitely the case."

Yet, the 3-pointer was missing in the final and the Eagles were 0-of-6 from long range against a Tipton team aggressively defending the shot. But ultimately, they would win the game from the free throw line where they were a near-perfect 22-of-24 and 17-of-19 in the decisive fourth quarter.

Spencer Ballinger scored 12 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter to help Oak Hill (24-5) pull away from No. 9 Tipton (21-5). The Eagles had a narrow 31-27 lead entering the final quarter and Tipton pulled to within 33-31 on a Luka Swan 3-pointer early in the period.

"Yeah, we couldn't hit anything from outside and they were playing me to where I could drive and I was attacking the basket a lot," Ballinger said. "(Tipton) slowed the game up and getting to the line a lot, and when I was on the floor I was trying to tell our team to try to get to the line and keep competing with them."

 

Middlesworth answered right back with a conventional 3-point play, then Ballinger converted two free throws that extended Oak Hill’s lead to 38-31 with 5:11 to play.

"We had a chip on our shoulder from two years ago coming in and we pulled it out," Middlesworth said. "(Tipton) liked to slow the game a lot and we knew we could run the floor on them and I thought we did a good job at that."

 

The Blue Devils were still within range trailing 43-38, but Swan missed a 3-point attempt and later Carson Dolezal missed a contested driving layup. Tyce Frank was fouled on the rebound after Dolezal’s miss and sank both free throws — he went on to connect on six more down the stretch as the parade to the foul line began.

"Well, (Tipton) had to foul someone, and thankfully the ball was in my hands," Frank said of his free throw opportunities in the fourth quarter.

Oak Hill had led almost the entire game — Tipton tied it once at 2-all — and threatened to pull away after taking a 14-6 lead at the first quarter break. But Tipton never let the Eagles get too far ahead and trailed just 24-20 at halftime and even pulled to within one point 28-27 in the third quarter.

Middlesworth also had nine rebounds and Ballinger eight as the Eagles had a 30-22 edge on the boards. Frank had eight of his 12 points in the fourth quarter and also had four assists.

"Lapel and Tipton are two tough teams and they really liked to get into you physically," Frank said, "but I thought we handled it pretty well and came out with the wins.

"We're going to come out and play our game and you don't want to play us," Frank added.

Swan finished with 18 points and scored 10 in the fourth quarter. Trent Seward had 10 points and Dolezal had nine points, eight rebounds and four assists.

Semifinal

Oak Hill might have played some of its best basketball of the season in defeating Lapel. After the host Bulldogs scored the first basket on a 3-pointer, the Eagles had their way completely with the host Bulldogs in front of an overflowing crowd of more than 3,100.

Lapel won a highly emotional game 52-51 over the Eagles on its way to the Class 2A state championship two years, and Eagles coach Kevin Renbarger said it weighed heavily on the team. Yet, the emotions led to a razor-sharp focus and might have spurred them to an entirely new level.

“We wanted to do something to redeem the 2015-16 team and everything was similar including a couple of the referees,” Renbarger said. “We wanted to make sure to do that and that weighed on us more than the whole scenario of the regionals.

“But this is fun,” he added. “Our crowd, the electric atmosphere here and this is a fun place to play when you don’t have to worry about playing Lapel.”

Middlesworth, the Eagles’ 6-foot-8 center, made sure the Eagles got off to a quick start and singlehandedly scored their first 11 points, highlighted by 3-of-3 shooting from 3-point range. Oak Hill led 19-6 after the first quarter and Lapel never was able to come any closer than 11 points the rest of the game.

“I had a bunch of open shots and took them and they went in,” said Middlesworth, who finished with 24 points to lead the Eagles. “It was a big momentum starter.”

For the second straight game, torrid 3-point shooting was the impetus with the Eagles knocking down 11-of-17 attempts against Lapel (65 percent) after setting the school single game record with 13 in the sectional championship game. Middlesworth made all three of his attempts in the first quarter, and then Konnor Cabe sank his two attempts in the second quarter and Spencer Ballinger knocked down one.

“It was important to make sure they saw the ball go in the basket early on,” Renbarger said. “Caleb’s two ‘3s’ kind of lifted any pressure the kids might have felt.

“The key was they came in very loose, very free and were able to get right into the game plan and not worry about emotion or energy or jitters. We shot the ball well and were able to stick them on the defensive end of the floor.”

Oak Hill had a commanding 32-13 lead before Lapel closed out the first half with an 8-1 run and pulled to 11 points (32-21) at intermission. Whatever momentum the Bulldogs had dissipated when the Eagles started the third quarter on a 14-3 run and re-established a 20-point cushion (41-21).

“We got a little content to end the first half, but then we came out to start the second half determined to set the tone,” Middlesworth said.

This time, David Arens was the tonesetter, hitting all six shot attempts including three from 3-point range, for 15 points in the quarter. Arens finished with 20 points.

“We really did shoot the ball well in the first half ... and this time Caleb was hitting in the first half and he didn’t get a lot of shot attempts in the second,” Renbarger said. “Tyce (Frank) and Spencer weren’t hitting in the first half. David wasn’t hitting, either, and he comes out in the second half and hits the 3 and then Tyce hits a couple and Spencer hits one. So water was water finding its level; it was just with different individuals.

“We’re getting closer and closer, and this game was as close as we’ve had all our kids hitting on the same cylinder,” Renbarger added. “We haven’t had that all year and we hope we can continue tonight, but for today we were as close to unbeatable as we can get.”

Lapel, which finished 14-13 was never closer than 22 points in the fourth quarter. Austin Lyons led the Bulldogs with 18 points while their 6-5 post Luke Richardson managed just six points and three rebounds, well below his averages of 15 points and eight rebounds.

Oak Hill shot 58 percent overall (27-of-46) and had a 28-18 rebounds advantage, led by Middlesworth with eight boards. Frank collected nine points and eight assists and Cabe and Ballinger each had eight points.