Liberty-Benton nets redemption and its first basketball state title


Liberty Benton’s Amanda Hyde and Catie Craft collide with Madison’s Lindsay Hoskins Saturday. (Photo by Nick Falzerano)

Sometimes it takes a loss to get a win. Just ask Findlay Liberty-Benton. Last season the Eagles left Columbus with their heads down. This time they left with one finger in the air.


Sometimes it takes a loss to get a win. Just ask Findlay Liberty-Benton.

Last season the Eagles left Columbus with their heads down. This time they left with one finger in the air.

A year after getting blind-sided 59-30 by South Euclid Regina in the Division III state semifinals, Liberty-Benton captured its first girls basketball state championship Saturday with a 66-44 win over Middletown Madison in the D-III state final before a crowd of 6,098 at Ohio State’s Schottenstein Center.

The Eagles finished the season as the state’s only unbeaten team (27-0) regardless of division, and in the process became just the 40th team in state history – since the girls tournament started in 1976 – to complete an undefeated run.

L-B also shed the distaste of last year’s defeat, where the most memorable thing about the game for L-B fans was a graphic image of Amanda Hyde’s dislocated finger.

This year the hurt was all Madison’s.

“Last year’s experience was huge for us,” L-B head coach Nate Irwin said. “We were able to see the other side of it and get beat by 20 points by a very talented Regina team. Last year wasn’t our best performance but I don’t know if it would have mattered. They were just that good. But it helped the girls taste it and want it more. This whole offseason they wanted to get another chance and they did.”

Said Madison head coach John Rossi, Jr.: “We won our semifinal game (Thursday) and got a little bit of a taste of it, but I’m sure their game experience the year before had a little bit to do with it. They just played a little bit better than we did today. We just didn’t finish.”

The Eagles accomplished their goal by doing what they do best – shooting.

L-B entered the season as the second most prolific 3-point shooting team in state history with 229 treys on the season. They added six more on Saturday.

Fittingly the Eagles took the lead for good on a 3-pointer from senior Amber Peterson late in the first quarter.

Down 12 in the second quarter, Madison climbed back to within 40-38 with 5:19 remaining in the third quarter, but a 13-2 L-B run to end the period decided the outcome.

Overall, L-B outscored Madison 28-10 in the second half.

“We have good shooters, but we also have girls who attack the basket,” Irwin said. “That is our offense. We attack the rim. And when teams close down we get girls open for the 3s.”

“We ran into a buzz saw,” Rossi, Jr. said. “We knew they were pretty good and they’re pretty good for a reason. The sting is pretty fresh right now.”

L-B was led by IPFW recruit Hyde who scored a game-high 23 points to go with eight rebounds. Sophomore Catie Craft added 19 points, while Peterson chipped in 13.

The Eagles were especially deadly from the free throw line, hitting 24-of-28 and their last 18 in a row.

Madison, the only other undefeated team in this weekend’s state tournament, was trying to become the first team from the Southwestern Buckeye League to capture a girls basketball title. At the first tournament in 1976, SWBL member Bellbrook finished runner-up in Class AA, thanks to a 45-44 loss to Columbus Hartley. It had taken 34 years for an SWBL team to make it back to the title game – and it will be even longer before one wins it.

Sophomore Brittany Shields led the Mohawks – who shot just 4-of-21 in the second half – with 13 points. Junior Ally Malott added 10.

Rossi, Jr., fell points shy of a personal milestone as well. Rossi’s father John captured a state title as head coach of Middletown Fenwick’s boys team in 1982 and son was trying to match father.

Next year Rossi, Jr. should have a good shot as well. Madison returns 15 of its 17 players, including Malott, the No. 1 ranked junior in Ohio.

“We just told the kids, we’re going to be back,” Rossi, Jr. said. “They got a taste of it and we’d like a little more. Once you get a little bite of it you want to take a bigger bite.”

L-B got a mouthful Saturday.

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