FOSTORIA — Each time, Whitmer found a new way. But the last one might have been the most painful for Lima Senior.
The Spartans’ 58-56 overtime loss to the Panthers in a Division I sectional championship game on Friday night at Fostoria High School was the third time this season Whitmer had beaten them.
Whitmer came from behind in the second half to beat the Spartans 63-54 in January. Two weeks ago at Lima Senior it won 77-74 by hitting a big shot in the final seconds.
Friday night’s game might have been the most unusual of all of them.
From the time Whitmer took a 1-0 lead in the opening seconds of the game until there were four minutes left in regulation, the lead belonged to Lima Senior, once by as many as 10 points.
The Spartans had a shot to win the game with five seconds left in regulation and two free throws that also could have won it with 1.5 seconds to play but couldn’t get any of them to drop.
They took a 56-54 lead to start the overtime on a hoop by Jarius Ward but did not score again.
Whitmer’s Derrick Rayford Jr., who led the Panthers with 22 points, got all four of his team’s points in OT, including the game-winner on a 15-foot turnaround jumper with three seconds to play that clinched the win.
B.J. Miller led Lima Senior with 21 points and Ward scored 19.
“That’s the third, fourth or fifth time he (Rayford) has won a game with a shot at the end of a game this year,” Whitmer coach Ryan Brown said.
That total includes one to win the game the last time Lima Senior played Whitmer.
“We were down five or six points against them the last time in the fourth quarter and I reminded our guys of that,” Brown said.
Lima Senior jumped out to a 10-point led in the game’s first 5 1/2 minutes and never let Whitmer get closer than four points in the first two quarters.
Miller, with 13 points, and Ward, with 11 points, provided most of the offense for the Spartans in the first half. Ward got all of his first-half points in the first quarter.
Whitmer struggled to find its shooting touch in the first two quarters. The Panthers hit only 8 of 24 shots in the first half.
Whitmer cut the lead to 37-36 with three minutes left in the third quarter, but Lima Senior pushed its advantage to five points, 50-45, with six minutes left in the game.
After that, Whitmer ran off eight points in a row to go ahead 53-50 with 3:42 left in the game. A hoop by Ward and another by Miller after a steal by Ahmir Curtis gave Lima Senior a 54-53 lead, but Rayford’s free throw with 1:12 left tied it at 54-54.
Miller’s 3-pointer was off target with five seconds to play and Marquis Coleman was 0 of 2 on a pair of free throws after that.
The Spartans had a small chance to win the game but Ward’s half-court shot was short as time ran out.
Before that shot, though, there was a controversial sequence when Lima Senior fouled Whitmer’s Riley Keller, hoping for him to miss at the free throw line, but Rayford went to the line.
Lima Senior coach Quincey Simpson said he allowed Rayford to shoot and make one free throw before challenging the move with the officials, thinking it should be a technical foul.
After much discussion, the officials erased the point, sent Keller to the line and he missed twice, but did not call a technical.
“It’s a tough one,” Simpson said. “In all the years I’ve been coaching, I never pointed a loss at an official but he didn’t make the right call at the end. That should be an automatic technical. They (Whitmer) were purposely putting the wrong guy at the free throw line.”
Turning to the rest of the game, he said, “We had our chances. We didn’t take advantage of our chances at the free throw line and we missed a bunch of lay-ups in the overtime.
“We allowed Rayford to do what he does best — drive to his left — four times between the fourth quarter and the overtime. I thought we did an excellent job on him in the first half but big-time players make big-time plays.”
Whitmer will play Toledo Bowsher at 8 p.m. Thursday in a Division I district semifinal game at the University of Toledo.
Lima Senior finished the season 16-8. Whitmer is 18-6.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.