The Liberty-Benton Eagles obviously wanted to make their first visit to Defiance High School’s “Dawg Pound” a memorable one, and if the second half was more like the first, the Eagles could have flown out of town with a narrow victory.
But when the second half ensued, the host Bulldogs respectfully showed their guests whose house it really was.
Down 23-22 to a shifty squad from about an hour south, Defiance ignited a 19-8 third-quarter flame that paved the way for a 60-47 victory behind a well-rounded team rally to tip off the boys roundball campaign on Saturday evening.
“I like our effort. I was really pleased with our effort,” said Defiance head coach Kirk Lehman of the opening night triumph. “Even in the first half, I thought we gave good effort. We weren’t very smooth offensively and then defensively we picked it up, but I thought our effort was very good all night. And if this team gives effort and is consistent with that effort, I think we can be a good basketball team.”
Liberty-Benton had no answer for Defiance sharpshooter Will Lammers from the onset, as the 6-3 senior Bulldog struck early and often from nearly everywhere. As act one of his game-high 27-point performance, Lammers tossed in a quick nine points for the Bulldogs toward a 13-13 tie after the first stanza.
Across the floor, the Eagles were lighting it up from the perimeter behind a triple each out of senior Marcellus Eckford and the dangerous junior duo of Josh Reindel and Ben Spiess.
While Eckford and Spiess each hit from downtown in the second period to keep the L-B motor humming, Lammers’ four points in the quarter along with tallies from senior classmates Tyrel Goings, Caden Kline and 6-5 junior CJ Zachrich helped the Bulldogs hang within a point of the Eagles with one half expired.
“Will Lammers kind of took Defiance on his shoulders and kept scoring,” said Liberty-Benton head coach Ben Gerken. “We had a really hard time guarding him, and he does a good job of using his body but then also shot fakes … he just kept us off balance.”
And while the Eagles tried to gain a little extra defensive footing by zeroing in more on Lammers after the break, it gave Defiance all it needed to give Goings a chance to fire up inside.
If Lammers had the guests off balance, the addition of Goings to complete the one-two scoring punch tipped them over.
The 6-4 post powerhouse muscled in nine of his 15 points in a third chapter that saw the Bulldogs find a rhythm on both ends of the court, getting offensive and defensive contributions up and down the roster. In addition to seven more points from Lammers — who included three freebies out of three attempts from the stripe in the third — Defiance senior Jack Vander Horst also found nothing but net on a well-timed trey as the ‘Dogs found themselves in command at 41-31 with a quarter to play.
“We had to extend to get out on Lammers,” said Gerken. “That left the inside open, and a credit to Coach Lehman, he does a really good job of recognizing defensively what a team’s doing and then taking advantage of it. They were able to get him inside and get some easy baskets, and that’s what extended the lead. It was 19-8 … that’s the ballgame right there.”
Defiance’s defense managed to lock down much tighter on the Eagles’ scoring threats following the break, as Eckford — the head-faking, trey-taking senior Eagle — was held to a single bucket in each of the final two quarters after grilling the Bulldogs with eight points in the opening half. This came largely due to sticky defense from 5-9 Defiance senior Jacob Hutcheson, who also handled the pressure of his first varsity season as well as he handled the ball on offense.
“Offensively I think the big adjustment was we did a much better job moving without the basketball and getting some ball reversals,” said Lehman of the third period performance. “I thought in the first half we started the game out that way, but then we kind of rushed things and we got pretty quick with our offense, pretty quick with our shots.
“Defensively, credit (Defiance assistant) coach (Jacob) Moore … he suggested, ‘Hey, let’s get up and get after them and guard them a little bit three-quarters,’” he added. “And then Jacob Hutcheson was tremendous … I thought he was really, really good on their point guard.”
Hutcheson also showed no signs of jitters at the foul line, sinking all five of his points in the final eight minutes out of six tries. The charity stripe was extra charitable for the Bulldogs, who canned 17-of-23 as a team on the night in stark contrast to the Eagles’ lackluster 0-of-8 effort.
While Lammers — who was right back to business as usual down the stretch with seven more points — torched L-B from the floor, he also did so at the foul line, making the Eagles pay for hands-on defense with 5-of-6 consequences via free throws.
“I was attacking a lot and was getting to the rim pretty good, and they kept on fouling me so I was making my free throws,” said Lammers. “We did a good job of moving the ball in that third quarter. We knew we had to get going and play harder in that third quarter because it was real close at halftime. Once we got going, everything kind of opened up.”
Standing 6-3 in his senior outing, Kline swatted shot attempts away seemingly at will as Defiance’s official Saturday night post nuisance, while a host of younger Bulldogs such as freshman guard Bradyn Shaw and sophomore Joe Lammers made a solid first impression on the planks.
Meanwhile, senior vets like Colin Moats helped a Defiance defensive effort that held firm throughout as the Bulldogs also came out on the sunny side of a 15-9 turnover margin.
“I thought our guys, late in the game when they started to pressure a little bit, didn’t turn it over. We had a couple mistakes, but for the most part didn’t turn it over and handled it pretty doggone well. And you’re talking about a lot of inexperience. You know, Hutch (Hutcheson) is a senior, but he hasn’t played varsity. Joe Lammers was in there, Bradyn Shaw … Joe’s a sophomore, Bradyn’s a freshman. So overall, I was pretty pleased with the way we handled it.”
Spiess got loose for a pair of triples and bucketed eight of his team-high 16 points in the final period, but was held pretty silent through the first three as one of Liberty-Benton’s main scoring threats.
“They really extend their pressure, and it was hard for us to get the ball on the wings to run some of our sets,” said Gerken. “They did a good job of really pushing us away from the basket, and it’s hard to run your offense when you’re 30 feet away from the basket.”
Defiance (1-0) will now host a weekend of roundball at “The Pound,” with Paulding (1-1) slated for arrival on Friday before Rossford (1-0) makes the trip on Saturday.
LIBERTY-BENTON (47) — Eckford 12; Jenkins 2; Reindel 10; Spiess 16; Dillion 2; Lyon 0; Doolittle 0; Colbert 2; Rath 0; Gerken 3. Totals 19-0-47.
DEFIANCE (60) — Shaw 2; Vander Horst 3; J. Lammers 0; Hutcheson 5; Zachrich 2; Goings 15; Moats 2; Kline 4; W. Lammers 27; McDonald 0. Totals 20-17-60.
Three-point goals: Liberty-Benton — Spiess 4, Eckford 2, Reindel 2, Gerken. Defiance — W. Lammers 2, Vander Horst. Rebounds: Liberty-Benton 23 (Jenkins 4), Defiance 25 (Goings 8). Turnovers: Liberty-Benton 15, Defiance 9.
Liberty-Benton 13 10 8 16 — 47
Defiance 13 9 19 19 — 60
Reserves: Defiance, 33-27.