CLAYTON – The battle of the orange and black went to the opportunistic West Liberty-Salem Tigers who dropped the Arcanum Trojans 56-30 in the first round of the Division III tournament Friday night at Northmont.
Led by seven seniors, the Tiger squad pounced to a 10-2 lead at the 3:02 mark of the first quarter and never looked back. This loss stopped the Trojans’ two-game win streak and finished their up-and-down season at 11-12 overall and 5-7 in the Cross County Conference.
The Tigers from Champaign County improved to 16-7 overall and were 12-4 in the Ohio Heritage Conference. They now play conference foe Greeneview, whom they defeated in the regular season, on Tuesday at Northmont.
Arcanum was the No. 16 seed in the sectional tournament while West Liberty-Salem was the No. 9 seed, but both played like No. 1 seeds with their fast and furious play.
The first quarter was a microcosm of the game as West Liberty-Salem liberated the baskets early for a 6-0 lead and kept the pressure coming against the ever hustling Trojans.
Carter Gray stopped the bleeding at the 4:40 mark for the Trojans as he canned a jumper from the post area. The Tigers retaliated by scoring 9 of the next 13 points to post a 15-6 advantage after eight minutes of fast-paced action.
Three players posted a deuce for Arcanum in Gray, Evan Atchley and Wade Meeks. Enforcer Trevor Burden was a burden for the Trojans to handle underneath as he hammered in 8 for West Liberty-Salem.
Second quarter offerings showed the Tigers still maneuvering the ball inside with their talented trio of guards for a quick 27-10 edge at the three-minute mark. The last three minutes showed a lot of ebb and flow as the Trojans scored 3 of the next 4 points with Coach Marcus Bixler motivating his players for maximum effort. The 9-point first quarter deficit was now to 15 at 28-13 entering intermission.
Zach Smith led the Trojans with 4 points, all from the free throw line. The Trojans were a terror from the free throw line as they nailed 9-of-12 for a 75 percent clip for the half.
Matthew Loffing lofted in 5 with an array of shots to lead the fast and efficient Tigers of Darren Leichty.
The Trojans only had two field goals the entire half, which you don’t see very often, as many shots rimmed in and out for the Darke County squad.
Third quarter theatrics showed the Tigers with plenty of fuel left in their tank as they scored an even dozen on the Trojans in this tight frame by outscoring Arcanum 12-9. The Trojans cooled off from the free throw line by missing 4-of-9, which did not help their cause in the comeback attempt.
Gray came out like a man possessed in this frame as he popped in 7 points with 5 coming from the charity stripe. The Tigers could not simply guard the talented sophomore and ended up fouling him on many occasions.
West Liberty-Salem was led by guard Max Eggleston who dropped 4 points in the basket for his eight minutes of work.
The last eight minutes of action had the Tigers marching past the Trojans by doubling up the score, 16-8, with guard Eggleston going off for 10 of those 16. The Trojans countered with Gray as he popped in another 4 with the orange and black basketball. The Trojans made their only 3-pointer of the game with a rainbow jumper from the hands of Meeks that the Trojan fans embraced.
Scoring for the Trojans showed Gray with half of the team’s point production with 15, 11 coming in the second half. Following Gray was Meeks with 7 points, Smith with 4, Atchley with 3 and senior Wills Troutwine winding up his career with one free throw in the second frame.
West Liberty-Salem’s scoring influx was led by Eggleston with 18, 14 of those coming in the last 16 minutes of action. Following extremely close was big man Burden with 17 points, Loffing had 7, James Loffing 5, Holden Neese 4, Neil Markin 3 and Braden Miller 2.
Final tallies show the Trojans with one triple, six regulars and 15 free throws for their total of 30 with 65 percent shot from the line.
West Liberty-Salem’s count had two 3-pointers, 22 regulars and only six freebies for 56. The Tigers shot 75 percent from the line and outscored the Trojans 44-12 in regular buckets for the game.
“I will truly miss our three seniors greatly as they know what life is about on and off the court. I have great kids, and we wanted this victory very much, but it was not to be tonight,” Arcanum boys basketball coach Marcus Bixler said. “We have got to get better as their inside post killed us along with their guards who moved the ball around real well. We started slow and had to play catch-up after this. On the positive, Carter felt more comfortable in the second half, and it definitely showed.”