Warriors down New Lexington
VINCENT — In what was certainly the final game of the season at the “Warrior Coliseum” and almost certainly the final game ever in the historic gymnasium, the Warren Warriors made it a winning one as they downed New Lexington 58-49 Thursday evening in a Division II district semifinal .
With the district championship game set to be played Saturday night at a neutral site to be determined and the Warriors set to move into their brand new home by the start of the 2021-2022 season, the Warriors took care of business as they led by as many as 20 points in the second half before settling for the nine-point victory.
“A great team victory, everybody played well and I’m really proud of the way we stayed focused,” said Warren head coach Blane Maddox.
“I thought the start of the third quarter was the difference in the game.”
Warrior senior point guard Seth Dennis led the way with 15 points while junior Brayden Sallee added 12 as No. 1-seeded Warren built a double-digit lead early on and were never seriously threatened by the No. 8 Panthers the rest of the way to improve to 16-3 on the season.
The Warriors knocked down their first four 3-pointers of the game including one by senior Joel Chevalier at the end of the first quarter as they built a 17-9 lead.
New Lexington opened the second quarter with a field goal by sophomore Lukas Ratliff before Warren answered with a triple by Dennis.
Hunter Kellogg responded with a 3-pointer to pull New Lexington to within six but Dennis splashed in another triple and Sallee followed with an inside score to increase the lead to double digits for the first time in the game.
Kellogg’s reverse layup made it a 25-16 game but the Warriors responded with a 3-pointer by Kurt Taylor and a pair of field goals by fellow seniors Dennis and Josh Welch.
That pushed the lead to 16 with three minutes to play before the Jeremy Duerr-coached Panthers went on a 10-3 run to close out the half and creep to within nine points (35-26) at the intermission.
Warren shot a blistering 60% from the floor in the opening half including 4 of 5 from behind the arc.
While the Warriors put together an outstanding first half of offense, they put on a defensive clinic in the third quarter as they limited the Panthers to just a Lukas Ratliff field goal in the opening minute of the second half.
“In the tournament you have really got to step it up defensively and I think our guys are playing with a lot more passion,” said Taylor, who finished with three steals. “We are jumping in the lanes harder and playing help side harder and it’s just a team effort.”
Back-to-back buckets by Taylor and Warrior post Jake Baumgard pushed the lead back into double-digits and the Warriors finished the third quarter strong with a two-pointer by Taylor and an old fashioned three-point play by Dennis to increase their lead to 44-28 heading to the fourth.
New Lexington managed to close to within 14 with six minutes to play on a bucket by 6-foot-8 senior Braden Agriesti but the Warriors quickly answered with field goals by Sallee, Chevalier and Taylor to take their first 20-point lead of the game.
The huge lead allowed Maddox to get plenty of rest for his starters and the Panthers to finish strong making the final score look a bit closer than the game actually was.
In addition to his 15 points Dennis also grabbbed five rebounds and dished out five assists for the winners.
“He’s (Dennis) come back from so much and he is definitely playing at a high level,” said Maddox of Dennis. “We knew we were going to click later in the season and he is a big part of it.”
The Warriors completely dominated the glass as they out-rebounded the Panthers by a 32-16 margin led by Sallee who completed a double-double by grabbing 13 boards to go along with his 12 points.
“We’ve just got to pound the boards on every single shot,” said Sallee. “Our defense and rebounding is what creates a lot of our offense.”
Chevalier suffered an apparent hip injury late in the first half when he hit the floor hard but returned in the second half to finish with nine points as did Taylor while Baumgard added seven.
Logyn Ratliff led New Lexington (17-8) in scoring with 15 points while Brady Hanson and Agriesti both reached double figures with 11 and 10 points, respectively.
Maddox has spent more than two decades coaching the Warriors on their home court and while he looks forward to the opportunity to move into the brand new facility, he will miss the tough atmosphere the Coliseum provided for the Warrior’s opponents.
“I’ve got 21or 22 years here and as we get closer to going into the new gym I think about so many great memories here,” said Maddox.
Dennis was pleased to be part of the last Warrior win in such a special building.
“It’s good and bad because it would be cool to play in the new gym but I will be here rooting on these juniors,” said Dennis. “This gym has been my home for four years and I’m proud to call it my home.”
Warren knows who they will play Saturday as Waverly advanced by defeating Sheridan, but they are not sure yet where as that will be announced today.
The Warriors are quite familiar with Waverly as they eliminated them from the tournament last season with a thrilling 45-42 win in the district semifinal.