Woodlan's Kadin Gerig didn't really know how to explain it. Boys basketball head coach David Randall couldn't give one answer. Jaylin Bennett could only say, “It's incredible.”
And really, when rallying from a 22-point deficit in the second quarter to win 83-76 and stun Leo (6-4) in the first round of the ACAC Tournament, there isn't an exact reason. All that matters is the incredible comeback win moves Woodlan (5-4) onto the semifinals against Bluffton at 6 p.m. Thursday at Memorial Coliseum in a rematch of last year's final.
“The kids refuse to quit,” Randall said. “I looked up at the scoreboard, I think with five minutes to go in the second quarter and we're down 21 points, and I told them, 'We can't play much worse than this, and we've got 21 minutes to back into this.'”
It didn't take 21 minutes. The Warriors fell behind 40-18 in the second quarter by turning the ball over and strong shooting from Leo, especially by Lions sophomore Dylan Barrow and junior David Hardin. Barrow went 7-for-7 in the first half and finished as the game's leading scorer with 29 points, and Hardin finished with 21.
“He (Barrow) ended up 9-for-9, obviously, and was in foul trouble, but shot the ball really well,” Leo head coach Cary Cogdell said. “He played with a lot of confidence, and we've seen that from him. He's continually getting better and better, and he shot it well.”
After the hot start for Leo, it all turned around.
Over the next 11 minutes after falling behind by 22, Woodlan went on a 35-13 run and tied the game at 53-53 with 2:40 left in the third quarter on a Gerig three-pointer. It took the lead shortly after when Loren Hahn hit a three after a scramble for an offensive rebound that was thrown back out.
Most impressive is that Woodlan did a lot of the comeback with its best inside presence, Bennett, on the bench with foul trouble.
“Without him, it gave us more motivation to work,” Gerig said. “Coach really stressed boxing out, and that's what we've been working on a lot. Those long rebounds, and really, I don't know, I can't really explain it. We put it together, though. We played as a team.”
After dealing with foul trouble, Bennett made his presence felt in the second half. He avoided another foul until late in the fourth quarter, routinely grabbed offensive rebounds and worked inside to score. He scored 21 of his team-leading 27 points in the second half to go along with Gerig's 10 rebounds and 25 points.
“I still think he's the best rebounder in the conference,” Randall said. “He's somebody who the other team has to account for every time. He gets the ball; he has three guys draped on him; he's getting pushed; he's getting hit and that opens up things for other people.”
The win also gave Woodlan its second straight stunning victory over the Lions in the ACAC Tournament. Last year it beat Leo on a shot at the buzzer from Gerig. The Warriors savior beating Leo in exciting fashion just as much as making it into the tournament semifinals.
“Leo's basically the big brother in the family right now, so we just made them feel like a little brother because we beat them back-to-back years, so it's great,” Bennett said. “And it's just incredible knowing that we are actually making it back there (to the coliseum) two years in a row.”
Beer out indefinitely
The Leo girls team won its first-round game against Woodlan 46-39 and did so without junior Jenna Beer. Winning without the talented point guard is something the 11-1 Lions will have to get used to because Beer may not play another game this season.
Beer has been suffering from back pain since the summer, head coach Carrie Shappell said.
“She (Beer) sat out all summer because of it, and so she's just working on trying to manage the pain and figure out what is going on,”Shappell said. “Right now, while we are going to miss her, we are planning to play without her.”
Without Beer, the team will rely more on freshman Abbie Heischman, junior Millie Adams and its senior class to reach the Lions' normal lofty heights.
“Abbie is going to step up for us, but she's also a freshman,”Shappell said. “She has an amazing game, but she also has a lot to learn and she knows that, but honestly, it's going to fall on my seniors.”