SPORTS >>Owls knock off Wildcats to get to district finals
Leader sports editor
ROSE BUD — Abundant Life survived a very quiet night from 6-7 post man Nelson Boren and a relatively quite night from leading scorer Dane Lottner and advanced to the 2-3A District finals with a 60-49 win over Harding Academy on Thursday night at Rambler Arena.
The reward for the win was another shot at top-ranked Rose Bud, which beat Riverview on Thursday in the other semifinal matchup. The finals were played last night after Leader deadlines.
“You’ve got to feel good when your leading scorer didn’t have a very good game and you win in double digits against a team that has given you fits all year,” said Abundant Life head coach Tim Ballard. “And Nelson got in early foul trouble and kind of disappeared.”
The Owls overcame Lottner’s cool hand — he managed 12 points — and Boren’s two-point outing with 25 points, five assists and three steals by Colby Woolverton, who led a stout defensive surge in the second half for Abundant Life. It didn’t hurt the Owls’ cause that they made 20-of-25 free throws after intermission — 24-of-31 overall.
“I tell you what, I told Colby before the game to just relax,” Ballard said. “He’s been feeling the pressure of this being his senior season. I just told him to trust the Lord, relax and play. He told me he needed to hear that.”
It was defensive pressure that turned around a close game early in the second half, when Abundant Life forced eight Wildcat turnovers over the first 5:40 of the third period. That sparked a 15-2 run that put the Owls up for good.
“Even though it was tied at 17 at halftime, I told the kids that [Harding Academy] was spending so much energy on offense that sometime in the third quarter, they’re going to be a step slower,” Ballard said. “We thought we might get some runouts and we wanted to stay on their young guards and try to wear them down.”
“We didn’t make a thing in the first half, but we thought if we could maybe get the lead to double digits, we could wear them out. That’s exactly what happened.”
During that third-quarter outburst, Andrew Chandler and Terrell Ghant delivered big three-pointers, while Woolverton was beginning to find his way through the HA zone for buckets and fouls.
Woolverton made 16-of-20 free throws in the game, including 14-of-16 after intermission.
His weave through the lane opened the lead to 42-29 with 5:24 left in the contest, but Harding Academy had life left. The Wildcats, behind some inspired play by reserve B.J. Roller, whittled the lead to 44-40 when Lance Carr scored off a baseline
spin with 2:28 left.
But Woolverton was there with the right response, making four consecutive free throws. The closest Harding Academy got after that was six points when Carr made a pair of free throws with 1:22 left.
Lottner answered with a baseline basket, and the Owls secured it by making 6-of-8 free throws for their ninth consecutive victory.
Both teams struggled offensively in the early going. Baskets by Zack Kirby and Daniel Stevens allowed Harding Academy to break out to a 17-12 lead midway through the second period.
But the Wildcats didn’t score the rest of the half, and Dustin Keathley’s layup in the final minute sent the teams to the locker room tied.
Sophomore Garrett South-erland added eight points for Abundant Life. Lottner had three steals and two blocks.
Harding Academy was led by Carr’s 14 and Roller’s 10. Chase Gentry added six points and eight rebounds, while Stevens added six points, five boards and four steals. Kirby scored seven points for Harding Academy, which missed all 10 of its three-point tries.
As far as the win being of the not-so-pretty variety, Ballard laughed.
“Rose Bud may be the only team to be able to beat Harding Academy and look pretty doing it,” he said. “And Rose Bud can beat you by 20 playing their ‘C’ game.”
Abundant Life’s most recent loss came to Rose Bud on Jan. 11.