ELIDA — It was a different Liberty-Benton this time around.
In the tournament rematch, Liberty-Benton simply made life miserable for Columbus Grove.
Liberty-Benton handled the Grove pressure and played lock-down defense to notch a 61-44 victory over Columbus Grove in the Division III girls basketball district finals Saturday at the Elida Fieldhouse.
It was nearly a complete reversal of when the two teams played Jan. 31 when Columbus Grove came away with a 38-28 victory over L-B.
“Give Liberty-Benton credit,” Columbus Grove coach Brian Schroeder said. “They came in and handled our press. They had single-digit turnovers and got good shots off of our press.”
Liberty-Benton (22-3) advances to the regional semifinals against Archbold at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Ohio Northern.
Columbus Grove ends its year 23-2.
Liberty-Benton sophomore guard Savanah Richards had 17 points with three 3-pointers. She scored 16 of those points in the key second quarter.
“It was a surprise, because I usually don’t shoot the ball that well or that much,” Richards said with a laugh. “But we knew we had to shoot it and we (her and Jensen Hiegel) kept hitting, so we kept shooting.”
Jensen Hiegel added 17 points and five assists for the Eagles.
Caitlin Elseser, a 6-foot-2 freshman, had six points and 11 rebounds. Sydney Lasiter had nine points with three 3-pointers.
Meanwhile, the L-B man defense had Elseser guard Grove’s 6-foot Paige Bellman. And when Bellman caught the ball down low, two other L-B players ran to surround her.
Bellman finished with 18 points and four rebounds, but was only 5 of 11 from the field. She was in foul trouble and fouled out in the final minutes.
“Paige had a good game tonight, but we made her earn it,” L-B coach Nate Irwin said. “She creates such a matchup nightmare with her athleticism, I thought our girls had a good team defensive plan to attack that.”
L-B also held Jade Clement (five points) and long-range shooter Macy McCluer (six points, two 3-pointers) in check.
“We knew we couldn’t leave her (McCluer),” Irwin said. “She’s a deadly shooter.’’
Columbus Grove led 11-5 after the first quarter.
But Liberty-Benton then found the passing lanes against the Grove zone press and 2-3 zone.
That helped the Eagles rip off a 13-0 run to take an 18-11 lead with 5:01 left before halftime. During that run, Richards hit two 3-pointers.
Richards’ 3-pointer with 5:50 left in the second gave L-B the lead to stay, 14-11.
Richards also scored a three-point play, another 3-pointer and a driving follow shot before the half ended to give the Eagles a 31-17 lead the half.
The Eagles outscored Grove 26-6 in the deciding second quarter.
“She (Richards) probably had the best half of basketball I’ve ever seen her play,” Irwin said. “She was all over the place, defensively, hit some big threes for us and took care of the basketball (against the zone press).”
Added Schroeder, “When you give up 26 points in a quarter, you’re probably not going to win.’’
L-B’s lead grew to as many as 22, 47-25, with 2:20 left in the third quarter.
The Bulldogs changed from their zone press to a full-court man press and that helped them run off 12 straight points.
But the closest Grove could get in the final quarter was 49-40. The Eagles answered that run with a Lasiter 3-pointer from the right corner and the lead grew to 52-40 with 4:57 to go.
And when Bellman fouled out with 2:32 to play, trailing 57-42, the air went out of the Bulldogs’ comeback.
“We got it within nine, but Paige picked up her fifth and we kind of ran out of gas,” Schroeder said.
Liberty-Benton shot 42 percent and was 8 of 22 on 3-pointers.
Columbus Grove shot 33 percent and was 4 of 14 on threes.
Liberty-Benton won the boards, 31-27.
A big difference on Saturday from the first meeting was that Grove had 13 turnovers while L-B had only seven.
“We attacked their zone differently,” Irwin said. “And we had only seven turnovers. The first time we had 26.’’
Richards said, “Us being able to get through the press, picked up our momentum even more.”