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By BRIAN LANGLEY
Morgan County News
Rebounding and defense win championships.
Need proof? Just ask Oliver Springs following their 61-49 District 4-A Championship victory over Wartburg Tuesday night.
The top-seed Bobcats (22-7) used a 30-rebound edge and held the high-scoring Bulldogs to 17 second-half points to secure their second District 4-A title in three seasons.
"We talked about there are several paths to get to the region championship and we want the easiest one, and winning tonight, we thought was the easiest path," offered Oliver Springs basketball coach Tony Ingram. "The keys to victory were mental toughness, handling their pressure, composure, being poised against that pressure. We had some spells here and there, but overall we handled it pretty well."
With the new tournament format rewarding the higher seeded team, the Bobcats took advantage of their home court and erased a one-point halftime deficit with a 30-17 edge in the final two quarters to earn the 12-point win.
Ingram thought the home crowd was huge for his team.
"Our drive all season was to get the district back here so we could have home court advantage throughout the tournament," he said. "We've got the greatest fans and they come out and support us. We fed off them and played well."
The first four minutes of the game belonged to Wartburg's Caleb Bunch as the regular season District 4-A Player of the Year hit two treys, converted a three-point play and added another two-pointer to give his team an 11-8 advantage.
Oliver Springs' Tyler Harper scored the game's first four points and by the end of the quarter, the Bobcats were up 17-14 with Wesley Rather dropping in seven points.
"He's (Bunch) has only averaged about 13 points the two games we played against them, so we knew that he was maybe due for a big game because he is capable of lighting it up. I was definitely scared when I saw him start off hot," Ingram said.
The game was tied four times during the second quarter, but the Bulldogs used a 6-2 run, led by Adam Griffith's four points, late to build a 32-29 advantage. Oliver Springs knocked down a couple of free throws late in the half to close the margin to 32-31 at the break.
Less than three minutes into the third quarter and it appeared Wartburg was getting the momentum back as they hit three free throws, including two technical tosses by Bunch, to take a 37-35 lead, but Oliver Springs then went on a 9-2 surge (Rather and Tyler Carter scored all nine points) to end the period and take a 44-39 advantage into the final period.
Meanwhile, while the Bobcats were building their lead, the Bulldogs were going through more than a four-minute scoring drought. By the time, Griffith hit two free throws at the 5:39 mark of the fourth quarter, Oliver Springs was up 51-39 with Lucas Tarver hitting a trey and Carter scoring two times inside.
During the next four minutes, Wartburg was able to shave the deficit to 53-47 behind four points from Griffith.
Oliver Springs, which had been held to only two points for nearly five minutes, then won the game at the charity stripe. They went 8-10 (Carter hit 4 of 6) to build a 61-47 lead with 20 seconds left before Wartburg's Andrew Howard scored a late hoop to trim the final margin to 61-49.
Wartburg's Bunch, who scored his team's first 13 points, was held to only two points the entire second half.
"Caleb (Bunch) has come with it all year. He is an exceptional ballplayer, and we just came out and played hard on them," Tournament MVP Tyler Carter said.
Oliver Springs dominated the backboards by a 56-26 advantage.
"He (Ingram) just says 'go to the boards and just work hard' and I think we came and done that tonight," said Carter.
Carter and all-tourney selection Tyler Harper combined to pull down 38 rebounds to beat Wartburg on the boards by themselves.
"We feel like we're always a good rebounding team, and those two (Carter and Harper) do a good job of getting in position to rebound. They work hard and they did it tonight," Ingram said.
The Bobcats were led by the 1-2-3 punch of Carter (18 points, 20 rebounds, 3 blocks), Rather (18 points, 4 boards, 3 assists) and Harper (13 points, 18 rebounds).
Wartburg (18-9) was paced by the 1-2 punch of Bunch (18 points, 6 assists, 5 steals, 3 rebounds) and Griffith (13 points, 7 boards, 5 steals).
Oliver Springs is set to host Greenback, while Wartburg will play at home against Greenback this Saturday at 7 p.m. in the first round of the Region 2-A Tournament.
Oliver Springs (61) Carter 18, Rather 18, Harper 13, Tarver 5, Richardson 3, Miller 2, Eskridge 2.
Wartburg (49) Bunch 19, Griffith 13, Howard 9, Shannon 5, Kidd 2, Langley 1.