LIMA – It’s a game for the ages that they keep playing every year.
A year after being stunned by Liberty-Benton on a 70-foot shot at the buzzer in a boys basketball district semifinal, Spencerville reversed the roles and knocked off the No. 2-ranked Eagles 53-51 in overtime in a Division III semifinal at Lima Senior on Thursday night.
Spencerville (16-7) had the lead for around 90 percent of the game. But it was never easy.
Down the stretch, the Bearcats had to play without their first-team All-Northwest Conference player Derek Goecke, who had fouled out. And they had to contend with an opponent who had lost only once all season.
But players like Goecke’s freshman brother Zach (18 points), Ben Bowers (12 points), Devon Cook (9 points off the bench) and Dominick Corso (8 points, 8 rebounds) stepped up.
“The big thing is it showed we are a true team,” Spencerville coach Kevin Sensabaugh said.
“Our best player didn’t get to play much, didn’t play well and didn’t get to play in the overtime. When one guy is off, another guy can pick him up. Late in the game when our best player was sitting on the bench watching, our guys just played outstanding,” he said.
“Dominick’s size and strength inside was a huge difference in the game. I thought he did an outstanding job keeping himself composed, going to the boards hard and finishing in traffic. He did a great job and we definitely needed every bit of it.”
With the win, Spencerville will play Lima Central Catholic at 7 p.m. Saturday for the district championship at Lima Senior.
Liberty-Benton (22-2) got 20 points from Zach Garver and 11 from John Darnall.
It was Darnall who hit the 70-foot shot last season to give Liberty-Benton a 62-59 win after Spencerville had tied the game with 2.5 seconds to play.
While Sensabaugh said he never showed his team film of that shot this week, they remembered it.
“I was in about the eighth row up in the stands. Man it was crazy,” Zach Goecke said.
Unlike last season when Liberty-Benton jumped out to a 14-0 lead to start the game, Spencerville came out strong this time, hitting 7 of its first 8 shots.
The Bearcats were up 13-12 after one quarter, 27-25 at halftime and 40-38 after three quarters.
“It really helped us set a tone for the rest of the game,” Bowers said about the Bearcats’ strong start. “We knew we had to come out and hit our shots and run what we wanted to and execute offensively and defensively. That really helped us.”
Liberty-Benton appeared ready to take control of the game with five minutes left in regulation when it scored the first seven points of the fourth quarter to take a 45-40 lead with 5:50 to play.
Things took another ominous turn for the Bearcats when Derek Goecke fouled out with 4:06 to play with L-B up by three points.
But after a missed shot by the Eagles, Bowers rebounded the ball, drove the length of the court, scored on a layup and completed a three-point play at the free throw line to tie the game at 45-45.
Neither team scored in the final three minutes, 43 seconds of regulation.
Spencerville repeated its quick start from the first quarter at the beginning of overtime when Zach Goecke drove for a hoop, was fouled and hit the free throw.
The Bearcats lost the lead, got it back, then held on for the win.
Two free throws by Bowers gave Spencerville a 52-49 lead with 1:04 to play. Liberty-Benton made it 52-51 on an offensive rebound by Garver with four seconds to play.
The Eagles stopped the clock with 3.7 seconds left. Spencerville got its final point on a free throw by Zach Goecke with 2.2 seconds to play.
Liberty-Benton still had a chance but did not get a shot off after Goecke’s free throw when Cook deflected a pass near the half line to run out the clock