Trailing by 16 points with five minutes remaining in the second quarter, Trevon Ellis and his Stivers teammates never lost faith.
“We stayed true to what we know,” Ellis said. “We’ve been down a lot as a team, but we stuck together. That glue meshed us together. We’re brothers. We know how to play and we know how to fight. We stayed together.”
The Tigers pulled off an epic comeback, beating the Rockets 71-63 in a Division III regional semifinal game on Wednesday night at UD Arena.
Ellis had 19 points and 12 rebounds, Allen Lattimore had 18 points and DaJuan Allen added 12 points for Stivers, which is now one victory away from its first state appearance since 1975.
“It’s the toughness of those kids,” said Tigers coach Mark Parker. “They’re a senior-oriented team. They’ve played three or four years on varsity. It’s just the resiliency, the never give up. The coaching staff, our motto has been all year that you’re going to face adversity. When adversity happens, it’s how are you going to deal with it? Are you going to implode on each other or are you going to stay together, are you going to love each other or help each other? We talked about that in the huddle several times and they found a way as they have all year to get back in it and get a W.”
Stivers will play Cincinnati Deer Park in a D-III regional final game at 5 p.m. Saturday at UD Arena.
Deer Park beat Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy 57-56 in overtime as the Wildcats’ Steven Gentry hit a free throw with 0.5 seconds left to seal the win.
Anna led 24-8 with five minutes remaining in the second quarter, but Stivers picked up its defensive pressure and fought back to cut the lead to 32-25 at the half.
Stivers took a 38-37 lead on a 3-pointer by Doug Spears, but the Rockets countered with a 12-0 run to take a 49-38 advantage midway through the third quarter.
The Rockets led 53-44 early in the fourth quarter, but a 7-0 Tigers run pulled them to within one possession with less than six minutes remaining.
The Tigers reclaimed the lead at 59-58 on a 3-point play by Ellis, then went on a 6-0 run to grab a 65-58 lead they would never relinquish.
Anna’s Bart Bixler had 32 points for the Rockets (22-5), who struggled against the Tigers trapping defense turning the ball over 15 times.
“They sped the game up, but we still got a couple layups here and there that kept us in the game a little bit,” said Rockets Nate Barhorst. “I don’t know if you can slow it down in a game like that when they’re coming out and trapping you in the coffin corners.”
Last year, Anna beat the Tigers 70-52 in the Sweet Sixteen, a loss that stuck with Stivers ever since.
“It was in the back of our heads coming in,” Ellis said. “We wanted to be more assertive and be more aggressive.”
The game was played with limited attendance after Governor Mike DeWine announced Tuesday that all indoor sporting events should limit spectators to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Parker understood the decision to limit attendance based on how little is known about the virus.
“At the end of the day, when the season first starts, you’re playing in scrimmages and the gym is primarily empty with maybe 15 people here or there,” Parker said. “Once the ball goes up, it’s the tournament, you know what the stakes are. Fortunately for us, we were playing Anna who beat us last year and we really wanted to beat them. But once that ball goes up, it’s basketball.”
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