COLUMBUS GROVE — Drive to the basket, whack.
Liberty-Benton’s defense and shot-blocking gave Columbus Grove fits.
Liberty-Benton blocked 12 shots in a 53-27 victory over Columbus Grove in a non-league girls basketball game Tuesday at Columbus Grove.
Liberty-Benton’s 6-foot-3 junior Caitlin Elseser led the way with 20 points, 12 rebounds and eight blocks.
Columbus Grove ran off plenty of clock on most possessions, only to have someone with a breakaway to the basket get suddenly rejected by Elseser.
Or if there wasn’t a block, the shot was altered or not taken at all.
Elseser said she’s work hard on her shot-blocking ability this year.
“I’ve worked with much quicker players and done jump rope and foot-skill things,” she said. “My freshman and sophomore years I really liked to block shots, but when I did that, I would foul. So with my great coaches, they’ve told me to go straight up and make them shoot over me. That’s helped me a lot and I’ve been able to stay out of foul trouble that way.’’
L-B point guard Savanah Richards had 10 points six assists and two blocks. Alissa Rhodes had nine points with three 3-pointers.
Freshman Kenzie King led Columbus Grove with eight points.
Rylee Sybert had six points and four boards.
Liberty-Benton, out of the Blanchard Valley Conference, is 13-0, including posting a 48-45 victory over Western Buckeye League power Ottawa-Glandorf.
Columbus Grove is 9-5. The Bulldogs are 3-1 in the Northwest Conference and 2-2 in the Putnam County League.
The Eagles ran out to a 12-1 lead behind the power at both ends of Elseser.
“We’ve played really good defense all year. That’s why we’re 13-0,” L-B coach Nate Irwin said. “But tonight was a little different strategy. We had a couple of starters out with injuries. We weren’t as deep as we normally are, so we didn’t press the whole game.
“We played half-court defense (man). … And when they (the Bulldogs) did turn the corner and get to the rim, Caitlin is a force inside, defensively, as well.’’
In the first six minutes, Elseser drop-stepped her way to the basket for eight points. She also had five rebounds and two blocks.
The Eagles also had the driving and outside game of Richards, who had four points in the opening quarter.
Liberty-Benton led 14-1 after the first quarter and 27-8 at the half.
“We came out in man and Elseser went to work inside,” Columbus Grove coach Brian Shroeder said. “They have shooters on the perimeter, they have a first team all-state point guard (Savanah Richards). We had no answer for her (Elseser).
“Then, we had had to go zone and it was pretty effective for a while in clogging up the paint. Then, you’re picking your poison because they’re going to get their looks. I think they hit three or four threes in a row and we had to go back to man.’’
The Bulldogs struggled to run their offense in the first half with Elseser plugging up the middle.
Grove was 1 of 15 from the field at the half.
“We have really great guards and it’s nice for them to know that they have someone down there so they can get out and really pester them (on the outside),” Elseser said.
The Eagles’ lead grew to 19-1 with 7:01 left in the second.
At that point, the Bulldogs switched from man-to-man to a 2-3 zone to help slow down the easy lobs to Elseser on the blocks.
It worked for a while.
But Liberty-Benton then banged it home from the outside, with Sammy Shardo connecting on two 3-pointers in the second quarter.
Liberty-Benton won the boards, 28-18.
Liberty-Benton shot 49 percent from the field and was 7 of 19 on 3-pointers.
“We’re a good 3-point shooting team,” Irwin said. “That’s a good combination with Caitlin inside and our shooters on the perimeter. We’re shooting about 41 or 42 percent as a team.’’
Grove, which ran its offense more effectively in the second half, shot 26 percent from the field. The Bulldogs were 2 of 5 on 3-pointers.
Schroeder hopes his team can learn from the game against one of the top teams in the state. The Bulldogs ended the night with only five turnovers.
“A few years ago we picked up Liberty-Benton and Bath and you hope games like this help you down the road,” Schroeder said. “This (L-B) is a great Division III team and we’re hoping this will help us function come tournament time.’’
Reach The Lima News sports department at 567-242-0468.