Leader Blues

Friday, February 27, 2009

SPORTS >> Abundant Life boys survive scare, advance

Leader sportswriter

AUGUSTA – Abundant Life qualified for the 2A state tournament for the second consecutive year, but not without a serious fight from the regional hosts.

Augusta rallied in the fourth quarter to make a game out of it after the Owls secured a 33-22 lead at halftime. It was enough to get the hometown crowd on its feet until the final minute, and nearly cost Abundant Life coach Tim Ballard his voice.

Despite the scare, they prevailed 61-55 in Wednesday’s opening round of the 2A East regional tournament to advance to last night’s semifinal round and qualify for the state tournament. Dane Lottner poured in 29 points for the Owls.

“Being at home was a big key for them,” said Ballard. “Getting to play at their home. They played a lot more aggressively than we did for the most part. They ran that 1-3-1 really high way out on the floor. They were leaving the blocks open, but we just weren’t doing a really good job of finding them. Their speed allowed them to do a good job of recovering, but that was the only open spot on the floor.”

Red Devil Demarcus Spears and Matthew Bowen gave Abundant Life all it wanted in the second half. Bowen scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half, and Spears finished strong with seven fourth-quarter points.

Everything appeared to still be going the Owls’ way at the 4:47 mark when senior guard Dane Lottner broke away for a dunk that even lit up the Augusta fans. That gave Abundant Life a 43-26 lead, but the Red Devils ended the period on a 10-4 run, and continued their momentum into the fourth quarter.

Lottner picked up his third foul in that time, and sat out the final three minutes of the third quarter.

“You like that coaching decision there when I took Dane out and allowed them to go on a 10-0 run?” Ballard said. “That was brilliant. We took Dane out and couldn’t do anything. We acted like we were scared to death out there without him there for a little while. We fell apart.”

Augusta cut the lead to single digits with a three-point basket with 7:01 left to play, and a steal and lay-up by Spears cut it seven. The Owls turned it over three straight times over that time, and Bowen capitalized with a pair of foul shots at the 5:25 mark that made it 49-44.

Spears then answered a Lottner basket at the 4:37 mark to keep pace before Mike Stramiello went to the line for the Owls. He missed both ends, but got a steal at mid court and took it in for two. That gave Abundant Life a 53-46 lead, and Lottner tacked on two more baskets in the final 1:21, along with a jumper by Terrell Ghant, to hold off the stubborn Red Devils.

“There were doubts because I kept thinking with only two fouls, they’re going to go to hacking, Ballard said. “And there’s probably going to be a couple of steals in those next five fouls that they commit. I figured they would probably get a couple of lay-ups before we could get to the one-and-one.”

A pair of free throws by Lottner in the final eight seconds of the first quarter gave Abundant Life a 16-14 lead heading into the second quarter. They outscored Augusta 17-8, including a 9-3 run to start the second quarter.

George Herring started the second quarter off with a Lottner-assisted jumper to give the Owls an 18-14 lead, and put them up by double digits for the first time with a three-pointer with 1:28 left in the first half for a 31-20 lead.

The Owls shot 24 of 51 from the floor. They had 31 team rebounds and gave up 16 turnovers. Augusta shot 18 of 40 and had 26 team rebounds along with 21 turnovers.

Stramiello added 10, while Herring had seven. Post Garrett Southerland had five rebounds to lead Abundant Life, while Ghant had five assists and four steals.

Abundant Life took on Carlisle last night in the semifinal round.