BOWLING GREEN, Ohio - Evergreen senior guard Mason Loeffler and his sidekick 6-foot-5 center Nate Brighton combined for 47 points in a well played 64-54 victory over the Johnstown Johnnies in the Division III regional semifinal at Bowling Green State University.
Johnstown was led by the relentless guard play of junior Gavin Foe who ended with 21 points on 9-of-10 shooting from the field, while adding three rebounds and four assists. Foe drove to the bucket all night, consistently beating Viking defenders.
However, the Johnnies would be plagued by a mediocre 5 of 15 behind the arc for the game. Junior Jake Lusk played a smart game hitting 6-of-11 field goals while scoring 14 points. Senior Derek Foe added six points and six rebounds for Johnstown.
Evergreen who is now 25-1 on the season got 32 minute efforts from four players and took a 28-21 lead at the half behind Mason Loeffler and Brighton's 13 point halves. Brighton hit 3-of-3 three-point shots in the second quarter.
Despite the hard-nosed defensive efforts of senior Matt Sayer, Loeffler was an absolute bear. The 6-foot-4 guard who is going to Urbana next year hit 10 of 19 for the game and added 9 of 10 free throws for his 29 point, 6 rebound and 2 assist effort. Brighton who ended the game with 18 points, 9 boards and 3 blocks was equally impressive. Brighton was 6 of 10 from the field, 3-of-3 behind the arc and made all three of his free throws.
The Johnnies cut the seven point first half deficit to one point 40-39 early in the fourth quarter after a bucket from junior Josh Potter.
The Johnnies benefitted from using fullcourt man to man pressure to spur its run, but the Vikings would answer with a decisive 12-1 run led by Loeffler and Brighton's five points spurts.
A layup by Gavin Foe would cut the lead to 58-52 inside a minute, and another layup by Foe got it to 60-54. However, Loeffler broke away for a one on one layup on an over the top pass against the Johnnies fullcourt pressure to ice the game at 63-54, while reserve Connor Hauk would add two last second free throws for the Vikings 64-54 victory.
Johnstown finishes 19-8 on the season winning 10 of their final 11 games. First year coach Kevin Eckenrode's team played with composure and grit. Their 51 percent shooting from the field actually was better than the Vikings' 50 percent and they had six more assists for the game. Both teams had only six turnovers. However, the Johnnies lost the rebound battle 27-20 for the game.
No time to hang their heads however, as the talented Johnnies return Gavin Foe who will be a star next year, along with the scoring of Lusk and scrappy play of Potter.
The Johnnies will lose big man Derek Foe who is off to play college baseball next year and senior defensive stalwart Sayer who was a three year starter for the team. Sayer, who had an off shooting night on Wednesday, has a chance to play at the next level due to his perimeter defensive prowess and a nice shooting release and the ability to move well without the ball.
Eckenrode who was a long-time assistant at Columbus DeSales is going to be a great coach for the Johnnies for many years to come. He brings tons of basketball smarts, composure, experience and heart to an already established program. The Johnnies lost, but left with their heads high after a hard fought and gutsy effort on both ends of the court.
Evergreen will play Ottawa Glandorf for the chance to go to the Division III Final Four on Saturday.