Titan defense bends but doesn’t break in district semifinal over Bears

The Waynedale Golden Bears (16-8) and Triway Titans (16-8) squared off for the second time in the past two weeks on Tuesday, March 6, this time on a neutral court at Wooster High School in the 2018 district semifinal. Both teams brought some gritty defense, but the Titans held off a fourth-quarter Waynedale rally and earned the 51-45 win to move into the district finals against Principals Athletic Conference foe Manchester.

As should happen in tournament play, both teams got after it on the defensive end of the floor, causing havoc for either team to be able to get into any sort of rhythm or flow on offense. It was going to be one of those games where whichever team protected the ball and controlled the clock would likely finish as the victor and keep the season alive. Triway survived early foul trouble and a slow start from their season-leading scorer while committing more turnovers (12) than Waynedale (9), but the Titans finished with a commanding advantage by out-rebounding Waynedale 40-26 to help the purple and white hang on.

Senior Titan forward Gabe Walker was limited to just five points in the first half of play while picking up three fouls. Fortunately for the Triway, fellow senior Braden Biggs attacked the rim to the tune of 11 points to lead all scorers by halftime and helped Triway hold a slim 12-9 lead at the end of the quarter and a 28-16 lead at the break.

Waynedale came out of the halftime break and did a much better job of protecting the basketball and showing patience with their sets on offense. It all started to pay off for the Golden Bears when Derek Reber drove to the basket and kicked a pass out to freshman Zach Geiser, who drained the three-ball to close the gap to 37-29 with 1:33 left in the quarter. Walker then picked up his fourth foul after Waynedale’s Manny Camacho snagged a steal with 1:10 to play in the third quarter. Camacho hit one of two foul shots, and suddenly the Bears were back in business after outscoring Triway 14-9 for the quarter to make it a 37-30 ball game heading into the final period.

Fortunately for Triway, Walker and senior Jordan Stokes both stepped up to lead Triway’s effort down the stretch, but not before Waynedale shot themselves right back in the game with the long-ball. Geiser hit another deep ball to make it 37-33 to start the quarter, but Walker answered with a drive of his own to push Triway’s lead back to six. Jordan Stokes then scored Triway’s next three points on a rebound and put-back, and then he cleaned up after a Walker missed dunk attempt but was fouled and hit one free throw to make it 42-35 with 5:30 left in the game and Waynedale running out of time.

Waynedale’s Mason Higgins earned a three-point play the old-fashioned way by drawing Stokes’ fourth foul of the game, and suddenly it was back to being a four-point game, 42-38, with under four minutes to play. Reber worked the ball inside for two, followed by a Camacho free throw, and Triway found themselves clinching on to a one-point lead with 2:52 to go until Stokes stopped the bleeding with a big bucket inside to make it 44-41. Reber missed a three, but it was rebounded by Geiser, who dished it back to Reber for a two-pointer to make it 44-43; however, Walker’s nifty spin move to the rack made it a three-point Triway advantage with 1:30 left.

Waynedale had its chances to tie the game in the final minute of play, but Camacho’s three attempt fell short. Waynedale’s defense forced a Triway turnover on the next possession when Reber snagged a steal, but a bad bounce off Reber went out of bounds to give the ball back to the Titans. Triway sealed the win after Walker and Stokes each hit two clutch freebies to push the lead to 50-43 with 0:13 left. Higgins hit a short jumper for Waynedale with :08 remaining, but Walker hit another free throw to ice the game.

Coach Ben Holt’s Titans were much more efficient on offense this time around against the Golden Bears, shooting 42 percent overall from the field, despite only hitting 3-of-11 from behind the arc. The key to the game was the focused effort from Triway on defense as the Titans have had lapses at times this season, but not on this night, holding Waynedale to shooting just 33 percent from the field overall and 5-of-21 from behind the arc while keeping any of the Golden Bears from scoring double digits. Most importantly Triway’s post defense was fantastic in keeping Higgins in check. Higgins had a big night in the paint for the Bears in their victory at The Pit two weeks ago when he scored 22 points. On this night he was held to seven points and five rebounds.

Despite his foul trouble and being the main recipient of Waynedale’s defensive focus, Walker led all scorers with 17 points, was tied for the game lead in rebounds with eight and led Triway with four assists. Braden Biggs once again displayed a high motor and hustled his way to 13 points, five boards, two assists, two steals and was on the receiving end of two charges. Stokes had another highly efficient game on offense for Triway. He made 5-of-6 from the field and hit 3-of-4 from the foul line to finish with 13 points, eight rebounds and two big blocked shots.

Waynedale was led by Derek Reber with nine points, five assists, three rebounds and three blocked shots. Ryan Weaver and Drew Hostetler chipped in eight points a piece for the Golden Bears to close out a nice season for Waynedale.

Number-two-seed Triway will play on Friday, March 9 at Wooster High School in the Div. III Wooster District final against number-four-seed Manchester, who knocked off number-one-seed Wellington in their semifinal matchup. The Titans beat the Panthers twice earlier this season.

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