LIMA — There was much chatter on Twitter and in other corners of the Internet about Lima Central Catholic delivering a message when it got a rematch with Spencerville in the Division III boys basketball district championship game on Saturday night at Lima Senior.
But the key to the Thunderbirds’ 66-60 win over the Bearcats, who dominated them 51-39 in February, was another kind of delivery.
When LCC delivered big shots early in the game, it sent a message to both teams that this was not going to be a repeat of the first time around. It also gave the Thunderbirds a lead they never lost.
LCC (23-2) will play Ottawa-Glandorf in the Division III regional at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Bowling Green.
Guards Tre’on Johnson (20 points) and Martyce Kimbrough (15 points) combined to hit 12 of their 24 field goal attempts when the Thunderbirds won their third district title in the last four years.
Darius West worked the inside for 15 points and freshman guard Xavier Simpson had 10 points.
“The first time we played we didn’t come out aggressive enough,” West said. “We came out like we were going through the motions. This game we came out very strong, very positive, knowing what we needed to do to win the game.”
Spencerville coach Kevin Sensabaugh also saw the game turning on LCC’s ability to upgrade its shooting compared to the first time the teams played.
“They just made big shots and they made them all night long. Our guys just kept battling. They fought like crazy. But LCC hit some really big shots,” he said.
“The first time around Martyce and Tre’on, neither one of them got going. This time they got it going a little bit. We had hands in their faces. They just made big shots.” he said.
Ben Bowers (19 points), Zach Goecke (16 points) and Derek Goecke (14 points) led Spencerville, which was trying to win its first boys basketball district title since 1987.
Johnson, who scored 14 of his 20 points in the first half, said, “The first time our offense wasn’t working. This time it was completely different, we got some offense going.”
LCC ran out to a 20-8 lead in the first minute of the second quarter before Spencerville scored 11 unanswered points to get back into the game.
It was a pattern that would repeat itself several times.
After leading 31-28 at halftime, LCC pushed its lead to 12 points, 48-36, with a minute to go in the third quarter.
But less than a minute into the fourth quarter, that advantage was down to three points, 48-45.
The Thunderbirds dialed the lead back up to eight points, 56-48, with 5 ½ minutes to play, but saw the Bearcats fight back to within four points, 59-55, with 1:08 to play.
“We’d make a big run and they’d come back with a run themselves,” LCC coach Frank Kill said.
Maybe the decisive defensive stop came with less than a minute to go with LCC up 61-55.
Spencerville’s Derek Goecke had pulled down an offensive rebound and was going up for a shot when West exploded off the court, pounded the ball off the backboard and LCC got the ball.
“Darius West came up with a huge block and we went down and shot free throws,” Kill said.
Kimbrough said, “Basketball is a game of runs and we knew they would make a run late in the game. We knew we had to stick together, play defense and that rebounding was the key to the game.”
Another big factor for LCC in the second half was Simpson, who missed the district semifinal game with an injury, handling the ball and running the offense.
“He controls the game, he controls the tempo. Without him the outcome might have been different,” Kill said. “We didn’t turn the ball over and he got the ball to Darius for some layups. Getting the ball to Darius on the block was gold for us tonight.”
Just like LCC’s shooting. Just like its district champion’s trophy.