ATHENS — His initials are K.O., and fittingly, he was Oak Hill’s knockout punch on Tuesday night.
Spearheaded by Kyle Ondera’s 22 points and 10 rebounds, the Oak Hill High School boys basketball team defeated the Fairfield Lions 59-49 in the Division IV district semifinals at the Ohio University Convocation Center in Athens.
With the win, the Oaks raised their record to 19-3 overall, and captured their third straight victory in the process.
More importantly, in the survive-and-advance universe of tournament basketball, the Oaks advance to Saturday’s Division IV district championship game against Manchester.
Manchester rallied past Southern 63-49 in the other semifinal matchup on Tuesday night.
The Oaks, playing in their second straight district final, will take on the Greyhounds at 2 p.m. on Saturday in the Convocation Center.
Last season, as part of Oak Hill’s improbable run to the Division III regional tournament, the Oaks upended South Point and Fairland.
This year, however, as a Division IV program, Oak Hill was the favored team to advance in the district round.
Leesburg Fairfield finishes with a record of 10-12, but gave the Oaks all they could handle both early and late.
On the strength of nine three-pointers, Fairfield leapt out to a 7-2 lead and erased a 27-14 deficit to tie the game at 40-40.
But the Oaks turned to the six-foot sophomore Ondera when they needed a basket. Or a rebound. Or even an assist.
In addition to his 22 points, Ondera grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds for a double-double. He also dished out five assists, part of a team eight.
Ondera scored 14 points in the first half, including eight in the second stanza. He tallied six in the first quarter followed by four apiece in the third and fourth frames.
“I just think Kyle Ondera was going to will to win the game for us,” said Oak Hill coach Norm Persin. “He did a great job, especially down the stretch. He kept taking the ball, kept attacking the basket, was aggressive and found seams and ways to score.”
Most of Ondera’s 10 field goals came on drives, either down the lane or on the baseline for a couple of reverse layups.
With the Oaks clinging to a 42-40 lead early in the fourth, Ondera scored two straight baskets for a six-point cushion at the six-minute mark.
In the opening frame, he scored six straight points, including a pair of drives to put the Oaks in front 10-7.
To open the second period, he scored back-to-back for 14-9 and 16-12 leads, then reversed a layup at the 5:15 mark to make it 21-12.
He then dished out back-to-back assists to J.D. Hale, only 30 seconds apart, to boost the advantage to 27-14 just two minutes later.
Ondera was a spark for the Oaks, who according to Persin, had little as a team on Tuesday.
“As we say in tournament, survive and move on and that’s what we did,” he said. “We were very lackadaisical. I’m not happy with our performance and I can’t be. I just didn’t think we played (well). We didn’t get in much of a rhythm. At times, we didn’t make good decisions in our offense, we threw the ball away and we didn’t rebound very well. But you have to give them credit. They were incredible shooting threes. I guess with the way they shot the ball, they were going to stay in the game.”
Facing the Oak Hill 2-3 zone, Fairfield found the range nine times, including three apiece by Andrew McKay and Steven Evans. Both scored 11 points for the Lions along with Bryce Morris, who also nailed a triple.
Jon Barber buried a trey in the third period to cut the deficit to 38-33, but the highlight of the night was the half-court buzzer-beater by Fairfield’s Patrick Rudisill.
Rudisill launched a shot from half-court, which trimmed the Oak Hill lead to 33-28 at halftime.
“They knock one down from half-court, and one hits the back side of the rim and goes straight up in the air and falls. They shot the ball pretty well from there (three),” said Persin.
For the game, Fairfield shot 36-percent from deep (9-of-25), in addition to 10-of-32 (31-percent) from inside the arc.
That’s where Oak Hill did its damage.
The Oaks shot a sizzling 52-percent (23-of-44), including 22-of-37 from two-point range (60-percent).
Oak Hill also held a 2-1 margin in rebounding, amassing 37 to Fairfield’s 18.
The Oaks also benefited from the free-throw line, attempting 22 and making 12 while committing just 12 fouls.
The Lions shot just three free throws, and were whistled for 20 personals.
The 13-point first-half margin was Oak Hill’s largest lead of the entire night. The Oaks were also aided from a Ryan Borden three-pointer in the run.
After falling behind 7-2, the Oaks turned a 9-2 trick in the first 2:45 of the second quarter.
Hale, who also reached double figures with 13 points, scored 10 in the first half and eight in the second period. He also blocked three shots.
But beginning with McKay’s third three of the game, and Rudisill’s half-court heave, the Lions went on a 16-7 run to trim the deficit to 40-38 at the end of the third.
Evans and Barber bagged threes late in the frame, and a goal by Rudisill made it 40-38 with 1:20 remaining.
Oak Hill was held to just two field goals by Ondera and a basket and free throw by Hale.
Morris, who scored Fairfield’s other two points in the third, tied the game at 40-40 just 19 seconds into the fourth. He stole from the ball from Borden, and finished with a layup.
However, the Lions never regained the lead.
Westen Hale answered right back for Oak Hill, as Ondera’s two buckets made it 46-40 with six minutes remaining.
The Lions never came closer than four the rest of the way.
Hale hit a reverse layup to make it 48-42, and 4-of-4 fourth-quarter free throws by Cody Cannon kicked the edge back to double digits (54-44).
Jesse Slone and Borden hit free throws in between, as back-to-back baskets by Slone made it 58-49 to put the game out of reach.
Slone scored nine points on four field goals, while Cannon chipped in six, Westen Hale five and Borden four. Cannon also came down with eight rebounds.
“I thought Cody Cannon rebounded extremely well in the second half, especially when J.D. Hale picked up his fourth foul (in final seconds of third quarter),” said Persin. “Another freshman, Westen Hale, made two of the biggest plays all year with a jump shot and a reverse layup when it was a two-point (42-40) and four-point (46-42) game.”
The Oaks will now focus on Manchester, and returning to the regional tournament for the second straight season.
The 13-9 Greyhounds are in the same conference as Leesburg — the Southern Hills League.
Persin admitted the tournament is “survive and advance”, but also said his Oaks “have to have more energy.”
They’ll have another chance at that, as well as a second straight district championship, on Saturday afternoon.
“As a coach, you’re always looking for your team to play up to its potential,” he said. “It was obvious that wasn’t it tonight. But we are happy to be back here (Convocation Center) Saturday and go after this one Saturday.”
* * *
Fairfield 9 19 10 11 — 49
Oak Hill 12 21 7 19 — 59
FAIRFIELD 49 (10-12)
Tyler Ayers 1 0-0 2, Nick Sowders 0 0-0 0, Kaleb Cox 0 0-0 0, Bryce Morris 5 0-0 11, Patrick Rudisill 2 0-0 5, Jon Barber 1 0-1 3, Andrew McKay 4 0-0 11, Alex Henson 0 0-0 0, Kyle Stevens 3 0-0 6, Steven Evans 3 2-2 11, Josh Honeycutt 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 19 2-3 49; Three-point field goals: 9 (Andrew McKay and Steven Evans 3 apiece, Bryce Morris, Patrick Rudisill and Jon Barber 1 apiece)
OAK HILL 59 (19-3)
Drew Cannon 0 0-0 0, Jesse Slone 4 1-2 9, Kyle Ondera 10 2-2 22, Westen Hale 2 1-6 5, Ryan Borden 1 1-4 4, Daniel Parker 0 0-0 0, J.D. Hale 5 3-4 13, Cody Cannon 1 4-4 6; TOTALS 23 12-22 54; Three-point field goals: 1 (Ryan Borden 1)
TEAM STATISTICS/INDIVIDUAL LEADERS
Field goals — Fairfield 19-57 (.333), 2-point field goals 10-32 (.313), 3-point field goals 9-25 (.360); Oak Hill 23-44 (.523), 2-point field goals 22-37 (.595), 3-point field goals 1-7 (.143); Free throws — Fairfield 2-3 (.667), Oak Hill 12-22 (.545); Rebounds —Fairfield 18 (Kyle Stevens 6), Oak Hill 37 (Kyle Ondera 10, Cody Cannon 8); Steals — Fairfield 9 (Bryce Morris 3), Oak Hill 8; Assists — Fairfield 11, Oak Hill 8 (Kyle Ondera 5); Blocks — Fairfield 5, Oak Hill 4 (J.D. Hale 3); Turnovers — Fairfield 16, Oak Hill 17; Team fouls — Fairfield 20, Oak Hill 12