ORION — Friday’s 2A Orion Regional final between a pair of Three Rivers West division rivals came down to making stops.
And the second-seeded Chargers, battling back from an early 12-point deficit on their home floor, managed to make biggest of those after the break and down the stretch en route to a 41-39 win over fifth-seeded Orion.
The regional title is Alex Johnson’s first as head coach, and Orion’s first since 2011.
The Chargers cut off Fulton’s final heave toward midcourt to force a tough miss and cut down the regional net. Orion advances to face Bureau Valley, a 63-60 winner over Hall on Friday night.
Johnson’s club trailed 20-10 after the first quarter and 26-17 at halftime before a 16-7 third-quarter run swung the game in the Chargers’ favor. It was defensive energy that made the difference for Orion, including an 11-of-22 shooting performance from the field in the second half after a 6-of-18 first half.
“A lot of credit to the kids for not giving up and believing in themselves,” Johnson said. “Now, on to Bureau Valley.”
Josh Johnson led Orion (18-10) with 15 points and said that his team’s energy and confidence was key in digging into the Fulton (13-15) lead.
“We started making shots,” the junior said, “and our defense kept making us better and giving us confidence.”
Orion had nine turnovers and forced Fulton into 15.
Coach Johnson said his team upped the aggression after a “timid” first quarter, crediting Fulton’s game plan and noting some of his players playing in one of their first real big games.
“The kids responded really well in the second half,” Johnson said, “and I’m happy for them.”
Orion trailed 39-38 with under a minute to play, and following a full timeout, Johnson converted a basket and-1 to put his team up by the final margin. At that point, Orion felt it could close things out following Fulton’s timeout.
“One more stop, one more stop,” Johnson said. “That’s what he told us in the huddle.”
Caleb Spranger added 12 points for the Chargers.
Fulton was led by senior Jamison Osborn’s 17 points on 8-of-9 shooting; sophomore Kyler Pessman added eight for the Steamers, who were outscored 24-13 in the second half.
Steamers head coach RJ Coffey said his team was sharp early, but simply didn’t capitalize late when it needed to.
“It’s tough that we didn’t get a look there at the end; it didn’t work out,” Coffey said. “But it’s not just one play, there were several plays that hurt us.”
Fulton was dominant in the paint early, but the offense began to rush things after the 20-point opening frame.
"We knew it was going to be tight at the end no matter how it started," Coffey said. "But man, our guys worked so hard, so I'm proud of them. Especially our seniors."
Wethersfield 63, Roanoke-Benson 56: Even after missing his first seven shots of Friday night's Class 1A Annawan Regional championship game, Isaac Frank did not doubt himself, nor did his Wethersfield boys' basketball teammates.
With the second-seeded Flying Geese clinging to a two-point halftime lead over No. 3 Roanoke-Benson before a packed house, Frank found his touch at the perfect time. He knocked down all four of his third-period shots, including three 3-pointers, helping the Geese take a seven-point lead into the final quarter.
Down the stretch, Wethersfield had to weather one final push by the Rockets, but again Frank stood tall, this time hitting six of eight free throws in the fourth to help his club secure its first regional-championship repeat in five years.
Sterling Newman 49, Erie-Prophetstown 37: The first season of the Erie-Prophetstown boys’ basketball co-op ended on Friday night with a 49-37 loss to Newman Central Catholic in the 2A Sherrard Regional championship.
Panther senior Josh Hammer finished his high school career with 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting and four rebounds, while classmate Brady Anderson had six points on 2-of-5 from the field. E-P head coach Ryan Winckler is very happy with how his team and his seniors played all year, including in their final game.