By ANDREW WILLIAMS
November 25, 2013 seems like years ago now.
In terms of the high school girls basketball season, it might as well be.
That was the first, last and only time state-ranked Liberty-Benton has lost this season, in a 53-42 setback at Bellevue to a Redmen club which currently sits atop the Northern Ohio League standings.
The Eagles, 14-1 overall and 7-0 in Blanchard Valley Conference play, have reeled off 14 straight victories and are No. 8 in the latest Division III girls poll.
They will put all of that, as well as at least a share of BVC title, on the line Thursday night when they host defending BVC champion Arcadia in a game that will ultimately determine who walks away with this year’s crown.
“It’s always a big game against Arcadia,” Liberty-Benton coach Nate Irwin said. “Coach Baker does a great job preparing his team to try to exploit the other team’s weaknesses. I’m sure he’ll have a great game plan coming into the game and we had a good battle with them last year. They came out on top and won the league, but we had a good game over there at their place.”
The Redskins won last season’s meeting 60-52 en route to a 23-4 overall record, a BVC championship and a trip to the regional finals.
Arcadia (11-3, 6-1 BVC) has hit a few more bumps in the road this season than Liberty-Benton, but has won six consecutive league contests after dropping its season opener to Leipsic, 47-45. With a victory, the Redskins move into a 3-way tie for first place with Liberty-Benton and Leipsic (13-3, 6-1 BVC) with one conference game left on the schedule.
While the Eagles defeated the Vikings 50-41 in mid-December, Arcadia coach Randy Baker said that doesn’t necessarily serve as an accurate predictor for what will happen Thursday night.
“It’s really funny this year. You can’t really compare common opponents,” Baker said. “It’s just how you play the day that you’re scheduled to play. Anything can happen in this game this year. We played Leipsic early and we’ve been trying to find ourself pretty much all year. We’re starting to find some things and putting some different pieces together and waiting for other kids to step up and they’re starting to do that.”
Even with Arcadia’s first team All-Ohio guard Miranda Palmer lost to graduation, there will be no shortage of fire power on the court when these teams meet.
Liberty-Benton’s Rachel Myers, a Bowling Green State University commit, leads the BVC with 23.5 points per game and is tops in 3-point shooting by hitting 48 percent of her attempts. Lauren Kotey is the only player in the conference averaging a double-double with 14.1 points and 10.4 rebounds an outing, while leading the league with a 74.4 shooting percentage from 2-point range.
Arcadia’s Courtney Cramer and Molly Glick are averaging 17.9 and 17.8 points per game, respectively, while Cramer is hitting 39.3 percent from beyond the arc and Glick is notching eight rebounds and 4.1 steals per contest.
While each coach knows the focus will be on the top players, they both believe the game could come down to the performance of others on the floor.
“They’ve got two great offensive scorers and our whole game plan will center around how we can limit them,” Irwin said. “We’ve got a couple good scorers that I’m sure they’re going to be focusing on. These are the games where you need that fourth and fifth player to step up and hit some shots for you.”
“We’ll probably try some different things, see if we can find something that works,” Baker said. “They have a lot of weapons so they can hurt you a lot of different ways. Myers and Kotey are excellent players, but their role players always step up and that’s what makes a good team. You don’t win with just a couple players anymore. You’ve got to have a good cast all the way around and they definitely have that this year.”
With an outright league title on the line, Irwin said he hasn’t said much to his team about the importance of the game or about using last season’s loss to Arcadia as motivation for Thursday night. He said they have been able to keep things in perspective so far this year and that isn’t going to change now.
“Our number one goal every year is to win a league title,” he said. “We’ve taken it one week at a time and we got three or four weeks into it and we had a 1-game lead already and that’s a fortunate situation for us. As long as we keep winning, at this point no one can catch us.
“I’m sure the girls, especially the girls that were able to play a lot for us last year and experienced that loss over there at Arcadia last year, I’m sure that they remember that and I’m sure they’ve got a little extra motivation that we don’t really even have to stress upon as far as coaches go. Our girls will be ready.”
By ANDREW WILLIAMS