By Josh Brown
Miami Valley Today
CLAYTON — As Bethel boys basketball coach Brett Kopp stood outside his locker room after Friday’s game, all he could think of was how his seniors had just played their last game.
But going in knowing they were outmatched by a taller West Liberty-Salem team, the Bees made sure the Tigers knew they’d been in a fight.
“It’s a cliche, sure, they say you can’t measure heart and all that. But it’s true,” Kopp said. “But these seven seniors, it’s been fun.”
Cannon Dakin finished with a double-double and the under-sized Bees outrebounded the Tigers in the end, but they simply couldn’t finish at the rim as often, while four West Liberty-Salem players reached double figures as the seventh-seeded Tigers pulled away from No. 16 Bethel in the second half to win 61-47 to open the Division III sectional tournament Friday night at Northmont High School.
And while West Liberty-Salem (17-6) moves on to face No. 9 Brookville in the second round on Thursday, Bethel’s season came to an end at 10-13, with the team saying goodbye to seniors Dakin, Nick Schmidt, Trevor Walker, Dylan Williams, Dillon Kelley, Chris Ahrens and Blake Young.
And the seniors led the way Friday night. Dakin led the Bees with 14 points and 13 rebounds, Walker added seven points and seven rebounds, Schmidt had seven points and four rebounds and Williams scored two points. Underclassmen Ethan Rimkus added 12 points and six rebounds and Casey Keesee came off the bench to chip in five points, all from the free throw line.
“The one thing you’ll never be able to criticize about those guys is their effort,” Kopp said. “Top to bottom, tip-off to the final buzzer, they lay it all on the line. And that’s all I ever ask of them, to play their tails off.
“I’ve coached here five years, and I played here four years, and I’m not sure there’s a senior class that played as hard as they possibly could every single night. And Cannon is one of those guys with heart. We were smaller, but we battled.”
And while Bethel ended up outrebounding the Tigers 40-31 in the game, they turned it over 15 times to the Tigers’ 12 — including four times on their first four possessions as the Bees struggled to figure out West Liberty-Salem’s full-court press early, which led to a quick 9-0 deficit.
“We had some uncharacteristic turnovers to start, but we have a lot of guys who this is the first time they’ve really played in a tournament game,” Kopp said. “Ethan and Nick are the only ones with experience from last year, Nick’s the only one from the district final game a couple years ago. It’s a different atmosphere, and it happens.”
Bethel battled back and closed the gap to 17-11 after one, and a putback by Rimkus cut the deficit to two at 22-20 with 45 seconds left in the half. But West Liberty-Salem’s Matthew Loffing answered with a bucket inside, and Holden Nease grabbed a defensive rebound and was fouled with 1.5 seconds on the clock, hitting both free throws to put the Tigers up 26-20 at the break.
A steal and layup by Dakin to start the third quarter got Bethel to within four at 26-22 — but West Liberty-Salem started to pull away again, taking advantage of the Bees’ inability to score. Jack Eggleston answered that layup with a 3-pointer and then converted a three-point play the hard way to make it a 10-point game, and a 3 by Caleb Siegenthaler late in the quarter gave the Tigers a 15-point lead before a pair of Dakin free throws and a drive by Schmidt made the score 43-32 heading into the fourth.
“We’ve always had those spells this year,” Kopp said. “I don’t know that we’ve played a game all year where we’ve played four really, really, really good quarters. We’ve been able to overcome them at times, though. But finishing around the rim has kind of been our bugaboo all season long.”
West Liberty-Salem scored the first six points of the final quarter to go up by 17, though, and the closest the Bees got the rest of the way was 10 points at 55-45 with 1:50 to play. The Tigers made their free throws down the stretch, though, going 8 for 14 in the fourth quarter and 18 for 26 in the game to put it away.
Nease finished with 15 points, Eggleston had 15 points and five rebounds, Loffing had 12 points and 10 rebounds and Eli McGill scored 10 points. Nick Burden added six points and Siegenthaler had three points as West Liberty-Salem hit five 3s on the night to the Bees’ one.
And while it was a tough ending to a disappointing-on-paper season, Kopp was far from disappointed with his team’s heart — cliche or not.
“We didn’t know what we were going to have, really,” Kopp said. “But, again, my one non-negotiable is effort. And these guys have topped the list so far. I mean, you hear them in the locker room there. They’re devastated. Sometimes you’re going to win, and sometimes you’re going to lose, and I told them that sometimes it’s going to hurt. And it should hurt. But when you’re that invested, it hurts that much more. There’s not many dry eyes in there, especially with the seniors.”
Contact Josh Brown at email@example.com, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.
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